While there seem to be no taboo subjects left in 2019, the tranquil opening shot of Rehana Rose’s documentary immediately teases out UK society’s collective discomfort around the business of death. Following a team of Brighton women who strive to ‘give death back to the people’, Dead Good focuses on two funerals through the eyes of the organisers, who are determined to honour the individuality of their loved ones in this final service. Rose’s observational camera style allows all subjects to come alive on screen and refuses to impose judgement.
The subject matter is naturally heavy but the film’s approach is never unduly so. There is almost a levity to Rose’s analyses of the undertaking’s corporate nature and forgotten traditions as the team on screen question why funerals can become sombre, complicated, and often male-driven affairs. One of the documentary’s finest scenes shows a casually dressed Cara talking about her approach to the practices of death while some stereotypical undertakers – decked out in suits, ties, and top hats – play in a comedy programme on the TV in front of her. It subtly exposes these formalities as useless, impersonal, and perhaps even counterproductive for closure without condemning those who work in more traditional undertaking positions or the families who choose such services. Juxtaposing the unavoidable, universal realities of grief, loss, and one of society’s last conversational taboos, with refreshingly frank conversations and humorous pop culture, amuses while poignantly teasing out the practical and emotional realities of saying goodbye.
Dead Good provides a snapshot into new – or perhaps rediscovered – approaches to funerary rites while acting as a starting point for conversations around the modern understanding of death. It is too short to explore many of these questions aside from the cursory mention, but its 75-minute runtime stays engaging throughout.
DIRECTOR: Rehana Rose
SYNOPSIS: An intimate portrait of a small team of women in Brighton who have been changing the way people look after their dead with the aim of ‘giving death back to the people’.