I promised that I wouldn’t review any run-of-the-mill films for you and I’m keeping to that promise. A few weeks ago I saw a trailer for a film that seemed so chilling, moving and unreal that I had to go and see it and now I have to share my experience with you.
Some of you may have an echo in your memory. A tiny recollection of a news report about a woman who was found in her bedsit three years after her death with the TV still on and a pile of Christmas presents next to her. The news story was released in 2006 and not many people remember it, I know I certainly didn’t.
Carol Morley did remember and she made a point to make others remember too. Morley took the time that nobody else seemed to want to dedicate to the story of Joyce Vincent and provided a truly harrowing tale. Joyce’s story is so real and yet so unbelievable that it lingers in your memory and makes you take a good long look at your own life and those around you.
The film begins in Joyce’s bedsit on a cold, empty day in 2006. Council officials break into the house with an eviction notice due to rent arrears only to find a body that is so decomposed that a cause of death cannot be determined. With her medical records the possibility of asthma or recent hospital visits for an ulcer could be to blame but cannot be confirmed. Maybe some of her personal situations that are revealed in the film could be the cause of the death or a gas leak. Whatever it was, even now, it’s just a mystery and that sort of sums up the film.
The main body of the film is based on anecdotes and personal statements of friends, ex boyfriends and work colleagues from various points in her life. Though we get a vague picture of what Joyce was like we never really find out who she really was or how she really ended up in the situation she was in.
And I think that is the point. What do we really know about the people in our life? They like football and can be flaky sometimes? That they like to go clubbing and refuse to talk to their mother? That you fancy them so want to keep your distance a little bit so you don’t scare them off? How often do speak to your friends? Everyday? Once a week? Every couple of months on Facebook? Or were you supposed to go for a drink with them but it got cancelled but that was just a couple months ago… right?
All of the people that are interviewed either didn’t know that Joyce had died or didn’t understand how no one looked for her. The beautiful, charismatic woman that all the men wanted and all the women wanted to be had vanished and left in her place was a sad story, no more.
The way Morley shows us Joyce’s life and reveals each piece of the puzzle is beautiful. There are no in-your-face speculations and there aren’t really any answers. Questions of race and class are raised and for the most part thrown away. The way in which each of Joyce’s friends are captured genuinely remembering her and not the horrific story is beautiful and eerie. There are moments when Joyce is brought to life and it sends shivers down their spines and yours making her a real person and not an urban legend. Their accounts make you realise that no one really knows you except for the parts you are willing to show. It also shows that no one will seek out those hidden parts because they either don’t want to pry or can’t be bothered.
Despite the moving and thought provoking interviews, we cannot forget the dramatised reconstructions with the wonderfully talented Zawe Ashton. Morley did a magnificent job of making the scenes real by isolating Joyce. Instead of looking for actors that look like the ex boyfriend or old pop star friend, Joyce is left alone with strangers or an empty table accentuating her loneliness even when surrounded by others. It’s such a beautiful way of telling Joyce’s story and bringing her to life without making her into a character or dragging her into society and it makes her story real. It was subtle and Zawe Ashton made it work brilliantly with her heartbreaking portrayal of an intelligent, outgoing, confused and closed individual.
It’s really hard not to talk about this film. I jokingly say that one day my boyfriend will leave me and I’ll die alone in my flat and won’t be found for months but this film has made that idea real. The fact that her rent hadn’t been paid for three years nor her electric bill and nothing had happened? Terrifying. The fact that the neighbour smelt something funny but did nothing about it? Awful. This film not only celebrates and acknowledges the life of a woman that had been – unbelievably – forgotten but makes you wonder about the state of society and how this could be allowed to happen.
It won’t be for everyone, I’m not going to lie. It’s pensive and it’s moving and it’s something that will stay with me for a very long time but if you’re not into documentaries or need clear, straight answers this might not be for you. With that said I do urge you to watch it. It’s a really interesting way to tell a story and to make you reflect upon your own relationships. It’s a very intense film that makes you feel absorbed in Joyce’s life making you want to know more but to escape at the same time and it’s a reflection of modern mentality and a reflection of the state our lives are in. I won’t hesitate watching it again I promise you that and I think that if you give it a shot you’ll gain a lot from it.