In a society where condolences can be sent by text and funerals scheduled in our free time, grieving is something we athink we can avoid. Is this really the case? Those with a vocation to look after the dead will tell you otherwise. They know because at the end of the day, they spend much of their time watching over the living. Despite the somewhat frightening name of their occupation, undertakers are actually charming philosophers and keen observers of life. We only see their sombre side, but away from the funeral rites and on camera, they turn out to be amazingly insightful. Their love of life and the living, their dark humour and comforting wisdom are the best remedies against existential despair. In Undertaker for Life!, Georges Hannan tackles a taboo subject and lifts the veil on an under-appreciated world: that of the artisans of bereavement. By providing behind-the-scenes access to the funeral industry, he demystifies a profession we tend to view as grim. But undertakers are anything but gloomy; they’re funny, generous and dedicated. We would gladly go on vacation with them, but sadly, they never have any dead time. Alternating between earnestness and humour, the guardians of the shadows confide in each other with disarming frankness and raise questions that are more urgent than ever. As our increasingly individualistic society abandons long-standing rituals, how do we make sense of death, how do we mourn, how do we preserve remembrance? What answers can religions and various practices provide? In short, how can we cope with death in today’s world? Subtle, moving and often hilarious, Undertaker for Life! shows the flip side of death. Against the backdrop of Georges Hannan’s superb photography and a musical score that’s as unpredictable as it is effective, these benevolent transporters, the undertakers, deliver a truth that transcends time: death, if it cannot be explained, at least allows us to understand life.
Undertaker for Life!, Georges Hannan, provided by the National Film Board of Canada