NZFF: Dreams of a Life
The big reveal in this movie comes within the first few minutes. In 2006 council workers broke down the door to a bedsit in North London, after their attempts to rouse the tenant whose rent was £2400 in arrears went unheeded. As they pushed through the mound of unopened mail, they made a gruesome discovery: a flat coated in dusty cobwebs, the television still on, and 38-year-old Joyce Vincent's skeleton in front of the sofa. It turned out Joyce had died three years earlier. The startling thing was that Joyce hadn't been reported missing and no-one who heard the news report even realised it was her.
Filmmaker Carol Morley heard about the story and was intrigued, setting out to piece together a picture of the mystery woman whose friends and family thought she'd dropped out of touch because she was off "having a wonderful life". Morley gently interviews ex-flatmates, erstwhile colleagues and old boyfriends, interposing the talking heads with a reconstruction of Joyce's presumed final moments. Actress Zawe Ashton personifies the Joyce that her friends fondly recall in well-directed, understated scenes, including a stunning piece of karaoke filmed in one long take, which seems to perfectly capture the essence of a beautiful young woman living an ultimately lonely life.
The story itself is incredible, and in bringing the characters from Joyce's world out to reminisce and grapple with their own response to the tragic outcome, it's impossible not to be deeply moved. Morley handles every element with utmost care and discretion - it would have been easy to slip into mawkish voyeurism, blame-throwing and judgement, but instead we see an affecting tribute to one of life's bright sparks, along with a deeper message about human interaction and the busy-ness of life in a 21st century world.
* Sarah Watt is the Sunday Star Times film reviewer. Read her blog here.