An amateur artist named Godfrey sketches regularly in a churchyard, where he finds himself encountering a beautiful young woman again and again in the same spot.
He draws her again and again, and comes to believe she is a ghost. But one day they actually talk, uncovering a truth much stranger than either of them realizes.
Director Uli Meyer, working from his original idea with writer Michael Marshall Smith, has fashioned a supremely elegant supernatural drama that uses its sense of fantasy and magic to explore deeper emotional mysteries like the persistence of longing and the enduring mysteries of beauty.
Shot on 35mm film, the story conjures a hypnotic, delicately bucolic world of the past through atmospheric cinematography and stately camera movements. Visually, the short has an old-fashioned, romantic quality, almost rooted in the values of Old Hollywood — there are no modern jump cuts, for instance, but gentle fades in and out to connote the passing of time. The tempo and pace of the main story are resolutely unrushed and remarkably quiet in tenor, creating a lovely sense of elegiac melancholy, which is also built by its delicate, romantic score and its subtle performances.
But the film is not an exercise in nostalgia, at least not in the traditional sense, where usually simple pleasures of the past are evoked to enrich the present. Instead, the film uses its exquisitely crafted sense of tragic romanticism to create a sense of mourning. To say anything more would reveal too much, but by the time the film’s conclusion hits its last grace note, the strange ineffable sadness that suffuses the film makes absolute sense, and becomes a testament to a much more immense, heavier legacy.
“From Life” is a story with supernatural elements, but through its commitment to craftsmanship and the preoccupations of its characters, it also offers a meditation on beauty: how it has the power to endure, elicits continued curiosity and transfigures everyday life. Very often, beauty may be the only thing left behind in a story that ends all too soon, along with a yearning for more that can carry across time, space and even dimensions.