Reviews Short Narrative

Funeral (2019) – 4.5 stars

Director: Marie Vandelannoote

Writer: Marie Vandelannoote

Cast: Damien Boisseau, Anne-Laure Gruet, Anne-Hélène Orvelin, Stefen Eynius

Running time: 15mins

One person dies of suicide every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organisation. That’s 800,000 people lost every year. Despite its startling prevalence, however, suicide is a topic that rarely makes its way into public discourse. From time to time though, a leading news-story will bring the subject to our attention – usually in connection with the death of a celebrity.

At these points, discussions around depression, loneliness and anxiety, among other emotions, come into significant prominence. When Robin Williams died, for example, many highlighted the contradiction between his happy disposition and his struggle with mental health. There seemed to be a tragic contradiction at play when a man who spent his whole life making other people laugh was seen to have succumbed to his own despair.

What came out of these discussions was that absolutely anyone around us might be suffering, and that it is important to pay attention to signs and cries for help before it’s too late. That’s what makes Marie Vandelannoote’s short-film Funeral such an important piece of work. It is ultimately a movie about the regret of not reaching out, of not doing all we can for those in need, while highlighting the realities of contemporary society that make such a scenario likely.

Funeral focuses on a group of adult siblings each looking to live their own lives while processing the sudden death of their youngest brother. Each sibling is a dramatically different character, with a radically different worldview. Caught up in their own lives, they have grown apart to the extent that there is limited contact among them, if any. The others managed this because they had other activity in their lives, be it an occupation or a person. The youngest, however, could not cope with this isolation.

Funeral manages to cover these themes without being dark or leaving the viewer feeling heavy at the end. If anything, the dominant emotions are warmth, sympathy, and a great degree of surprise owing to a clever trick the film plays on the viewer. Writer-Director Vandelannoote depicts this process in a brief yet decidedly comprehensive – not to mention strikingly realistic – segment where they recall warm memories of their departed brother, before one finally collapses into a fit of sobbing.

Over the course of the resulting conversation, one finds out that the late brother had a strenuous relationship with his father, a problem with alcoholism, and the inability to maintain relationships. In his siblings, he found support, but only to the extent that they could accommodate him without completely disrupting their lives. Who could blame them?

After struggling to be there for him, the siblings simply gave up on him at different points in time, leaving him to deal with his own problems, as is expected of all adults in our society. The result is what it is.

The story depicts the hopelessness of the situation, where an initially well-meaning family could not, or did not, do enough to rescue someone who was never at peace with himself. Arguments over whether they did enough could go on forever, but such discussions are futile for the siblings – a realisation that they themselves reach in the hopeless closure that marks the end of the film.

The beauty of Funeral lies in the way in which its multi-layered script draws to a single collective realisation. Over the course of their conversation, the characters bring up elements of regret, anger, frustration, blame, love, nostalgia, sibling rivalry and pretty much everything else, while the twist at the end left me with goose bumps.

Vandelannoote’s script is at once harrowing and heart-warming, exploring themes of suicide, depression and how society – specifically family – deals with them. The subjects that unfold here, while distinctly personal, will speak to a number of broader social factors that surround suicide. The dialectic contradictions at the heart of the film symbolise the process of catharsis we each undergo in the wake of personal tragedy.

My chief take-away from the film is that we should fight to never give up on one another, to help our loved ones until the very end, because the alternative could well be irreversible.

Filmmaker Marie Vandelannoote certainly deserves applause for keeping the viewer fooled through the film, although this is just the icing on a beautifully crafted cake. A single scene conveys a hard-hitting message, helped along by gripping acting. Changes in the background score take the viewer on a journey, while the overall narrative rises and falls with almost perfect timing.

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