We were delighted to attend the first screening of Almost Heaven at Central PictureHouse last night.
Almost Heaven is a coming-of-age story with an end-of-life narrative, set in a typical Chinese funeral home. For those of us interested in death, dying and funerals, it's a glimpse into a culture that handles death very differently.
The documentary follows Ying Ling, a 17 year old girl who takes a job as a trainee mortician in one of China's largest funeral homes, confronting her fears of ghosts. Along the way, she learns to take care of the dead, falls in love for the first time and works out what she'd really like to do with her life.
There's a stark contrast between the depressing basement of the funeral home with its mechanical lift and underground tunnels, and the 'spa' ceremony where morticians (including Ying Ling) wash, massage and dress the person who has died in the presence of the family. There's a sense of sacredness to the spa ritual, but it has a commercial edge and seems to lack any genuine feeling.
In one scene, a ceremony is interrupted before the cremation can take place as the family haven't paid their bill. The contrast of the family's wailing with the voice of the funeral home manager telling them the funeral won't go ahead is painful to observe.
The portrayal of how death is handled in a Chinese funeral home left me feeling cold inside and not at all inspired. But it's Ying Ling who is the true heroine of the documentary - a vibrant, ambitious and funny young woman trying to find her place in the world whilst navigating growing up, loneliness and romance, as she's inspired to make a decision about what she really wants for her future by the people around her who no longer have one.
Whether or not you have an interest in death and funeral ritual, this is a beautifully shot film that's definitely worth watching.
14 Sept 2017 Picturehouse Central, London + Q&A
18 Sept 2017 Message To Man, Saint Petersburg, Russia – RUSSIA PREMIERE + Q&A
19 Sept 2017 Message To Man, Saint Petersburg, Russia
21 Sept 2017 Encounters Festival, Watershed, Bristol + Q&A
22 Sept 2017 SCREENING DAILY AT PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL, LONDON
26 Sept 2017 Crouch End Picturehouse, London + Q&A
28 Sept 2017 Bertha Dochouse, London + Q&A
02 Oct 2017 Hackney Picturehouse, London+ Q&A
03 Oct 2017 The Lexi, London + Q&A
05 Oct 2017 Filmhouse, Edinburgh + Q&A
07 Oct 2017 Glasgow Film Theatre + Q&A
22 Oct 2017 Margaret Mead Film Festival, New York – US PREMIERE + Q&A