Island review – unblinking vigil at death’s door | Documentary films

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Director Steven Eastwood’s documentary follows four different people in their last days – and in one case, during his very last seconds – of their lives, taking an extraordinarily honest, unblinking, ruthlessly unsentimental look at the process of death. Shot mostly in a rather quaint-looking Victorian hospice on the Isle of Wight, an institution staffed by caring but matter-of-fact staff who go about their duties with unfussy efficiency, the film unfolds in long takes without narration or editorial guidance.

The style is similar to the practice of American documentary doyen Fred Wiseman (At Berkeley), although thankfully this runs about half as long as the average Wiseman film. Also, Eastwood is a more visible, or at least audible, presence in the movie, often introduced by the subjects to their friends or family, which given the nature of the film reassures us that these people feel themselves to be co-participants in the project, willing to let him record them in these intensely intimate circumstances.

Three of the main subjects are reasonably elderly, sick because of cancer or something unspecified, maybe just old age. But football fan Jamie Gunnell is only 40 and has a four-year-old daughter that he’s going to leave behind. He talks practically about the need to be honest with her and answer any questions she might have, but behind the no-nonsense practicality of his manner, the shock and panic is just about visible. Roy Howard is more worried about the logistics of his care and whether or not his boyfriend is coping, but their stories and feelings are not probed in great depth. This is much more about what it feels like as you wait to die or sit by someone’s bedside, waiting with them; a slow, draining process that Island catches with some hauntingly evocative images and sparse use of sound.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Island review – unblinking vigil at death’s door | Documentary films

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