NO-HEADLINE

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The Independent Culture
There are two immutable laws of undertaking. One is that business is immune to the vagaries of recession; like midwives at the start of life, undertakers, the indispensable attendants at the end of it, never run out of custom. The other law is th at you don't giggle on the job. Not in front of the clients anyway.

In previous screen appearances, Sicilian Americans have done more than their fair share to keep trade ticking over. "Family Business", an infectious film for Short Stories (C4), bumped into a Sicilian firm in Philadelphia which buries the bodies rather than supplying them. "We have famous people, infamous people," said the machine-gun-mouth in the cap, Sam Monti, who ran the outfit, "but mostly we have dead people coming in here." When the grim reaper pays the high school fees for your six daughters, then, like the grave-diggers in Hamlet, a man can afford to make light of him.

Sarah Cole, the director, nosed out some wonderfully subtle moments, to which the game participants contributed unknowingly. The boss showed off his top-dollar ratcheted display coffin while his nonagenarian father, the archetype of a self-made man who can't say goodbye to the office, shuffled into shot, and the camera swung round to admire him. He's known as pop, presumably on account of what he'll soon be doing to his clogs.

Daughter number five, who helped out with the firm, suspected that number six would be giving her dad's business a wide berth: "I don't think they could be in the same room for more than two days together without cutting each other's throats out." That "out", almost Latin in its florid exactitude, was perfect: who else but a Sicilian could reveal their ancestry with just one English adverb?

The premises were long and narrow with windows at one end that funnelled in snow-white light, so that almost every shot threw the subjects into silhouette. It probably isn't in the textbook of the National Film and Television School, under whose auspicesthe documentary was made, but it worked here, adding a palpable murkiness to the goings-on of a trade that, in this case, had opened its doors but still balked at breaking the ultimate taboo: there was no full-frontal of a dead body.

From several askance sightings of bits of a corpse, it felt as if you were playing spot the mystery celeb in a black edition of A Question of Sport. The cheerful youth whose job it was to doll up the stiffs by adding a dash of rouge to the embalming fluid ("It isn't necessary but I feel we get a nice result from it") listed the satisfactions of the job while waggling a withered yellow claw at the bottom of the shot. Gripping.

The same goes for Belfast Lessons - Inside the Peace Process, a three-month, three-way collaboration between Channel Four, Point du Jour and Hazelwood College, an integrated school in Belfast which in the late political spring of this autumn opened its doors to a French film crew. The fina l programme assembled together the series of regular short reports into an hour-long summary.

The project ended, facilely but forgiveably, with a shot of the contributing students gathered on a hilltop overlooking the capital of the Troubles. It would be too easy to report that, as events have gathered pace north and south of the border during filming, the students have reflected a surge of optimism in the Province. At the level of the classroom, the progress was confined to the fact that, whenever a pupil told the camera something that they wouldn't dare voice to their classmates in person, thenext day they had to face the music. You couldn't hope for a starker definition of public service broadcasting than that.

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