Belcourt Theatre gives us many delights, and this weekend is no exception, as 2022’s “Living” and the 1952 film that inspired it, Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru,” screen at Nashville’s preeminent home for world cinema of every era.
You don’t have to be an expert on, or even have seen the latter (which partly found its roots in the 1886 Leo Tolstoy novella “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”) to enjoy the former, but what a wonderful opportunity to marvel at quality film-making. They’re even shot in the same aspect ratio, and both are set in early 1950s. They also center on the person of a civil servant, but “Living” (directed with passionate care by Oliver Hermanus with Oscar-nominated script by Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, author of the novels “The Remains of The Day” and “Never Let Me Go”) does not merely flatter with imitation – it stands on its own as a beautiful, sensitive work.
In the gray of a Britain still recovering from WWII we meet Williams (Bill Nighy), a veteran civil servant, whose stooped frame and hoarsened voice have been weighed with cares professional and personal for far too long. He will go on as he long has until a medical diagnosis takes him in search of life’s vibrancy before his all-too-short time is done.
Nighy’s distinguished stage, TV and film career long ago marked him out as one of the English-speaking world’s finest character actors. He received a Best Actor Oscar nod this week (his first Academy Award nomination). It’s richly deserved for the performance he turns in, taking us on a journey through look, gesture and intonation that slowly reveals Williams in the most poignant ways possible.
The supporting cast, led by Alex Sharp playing a new employee in Williams’ department named Peter, and Aimee Lou Wood as Margaret, briming with vitality and serving as Williams’ beacon to a better path, are superb. The same can be said for period-perfect efforts of Production Designer Helen Scott and Costumer Designer Sandy Powell as well as the colors and framing captured by Cinematographer Jamie D. Ramsay,
But the beating heart of “Living” remains Nighy’s bravura performance. The bittersweet joy of Williams’ late-life blooming is captured completely and we are left with much to savor.
“Living” opens today at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville; it also opens today at the AMC Thoroughbred 20 in Franklin. “Ikiru” plays Saturday night at the Belcourt as well. The film is rated PG-13 for some suggestive material and smoking by the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) of the Motion Picture Association (MPA).