Documentary-styled down to the casting of primarily non-pro actors in their own workplace roles, “Pursuit of Loneliness” pays dispassionate attention to concerns most people prefer not to think about until forced: preparing for death, and its bureaucratic aftermath. Scrupulously neutral and naturalistic, but still involving, Laurence Thrush’s second feature is probably too stark for most commercial avenues. Still, it should do well on the fest circuit while attracting more adventurous artscasters and DVD/download distribs.
It takes a while to realize the lady we first see walking two small dogs in a park is Cynthia (Joy Hille), an elderly Los Angeleno found dead in her hospital bed by a shaken young ultrasound technician. It takes even longer to realize that “Pursuit” tells one story in two parallel strands, the first of which gradually reveals loner Cynthia’s last days, living alone in a house alarmingly cluttered with evidence of her hoarding and TV shopping-network addictions. A second, more dominant thread charts the actions required by hospital procedure and public law after her demise. These are complicated by the fact that Cynthia has passed on without an apparent will, surviving relatives or even neighbors who knew her as more than a nodding acquaintance.
What could easily have been a dull or maudlin slog instead becomes a barely fictionalized portrait of people at work in unheralded jobs. All are thoroughly professional, most pleasant, a couple strictly by-the-book. Much specialized labor is required to settle Cynthia’s worldly affairs, from the chief shift nurse who officially records her passing to the animal-services worker picking up her dogs.
It falls to no-nonsense public administrator’s office rep Joni (Suzanne Faha) to begin the arduous task of taking inventory in the shuttered home, cataloguing clothes with the pricetags still on and 35-year-old prescription bottles so the residence can be cleared for future habitation (or demolition). Just as this life’s loose ends appear to be tying up — inasmuch as the authorities can manage — the pic returns to previously introduced figure Mr. Bennett (John Magginetti), who is similarly without close friends or family as Alzheimer’s forces him reluctantly from a hospital bed to a convalescent home.
Thrush, whose Japanese-language feature “Left Handed” dealt with another socially isolated protagonist (a teenage boy who refuses to leave his bedroom for two years), has a good eye and a sure feel for workplace routine. There’s scarcely a moment that feels acted, and while the pic does bog down a bit toward the end, its nonjudgmental, detached yet empathetic progress holds interest more than one might expect. Nonetheless, some viewers will inevitably find the black-and-white feature excessively restrained and undramatic.
Apart from a few too many lingering back-of-the-head shots, assembly is both unobtrusive and carefully thought through, with William Basinski’s score the most emotionally assertive contribution.