Filmed over a period of one year, Miguel Eek’s new film is a portrait of life as usual at the large cemetery de Palma, Palma de Mallorca. This might not sound like much, but this observational documentary has humor and depth and is so much more than its synopsis can promise. Seen through the daily life of its workers and the people who come to visit or say goodbye to their loved ones, City of the Dead is essentially a warm and fear-taming portrait of the human condition surrounding the last important landmark in everyone’s life: the end of the line.
The camera explores, with nuance and feeling, the reality of people who spend their workdays dealing with what most of us tend to avoid thinking about: the knowledge that we all eventually die. Yet in the company of Jose (the sales agent meeting with families that come to arrange funerals), David and Sergio (the undertakers), Jaume and Mohammed (the gardeners), Jose Luis (from the crematorium) and Manuela (who does the cleaning), the reality of our impermanence becomes surprisingly less frightening and only human. Sometimes dramatic and often humorous, their daily routines and interactions often take place in the company of the deceased, yet witnessing this makes one realize just how necessary, unavoidable and also meaningful their work is.
Day in and day out, managing the graveyard is teamwork. There are routine and idle moments, some days are busier than others, and there is traffic to be managed around All Saints Day when everyone comes to visit their lost ones. As it seems, dying does require some hands-on preparations and some admin work, and there are numerous decisions to be made. The cemetery seems to operate like any business, with an offer for everything, from clothing to music to a final resting place – all with a price tag attached. Jose – the sales agent – speaks to each family in a low voice. He seems to have a catalogue for everything. And all the questions and choices seem like reality strike intermezzos in the blur of a …
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