By Emma Silverthorn @HouseOf_Gazelle
Funeral-speech writer Paul (Stephane Guillon) in Vincent Lannoo’s dark comedy Paper Souls (Les Ames De Papier) brings to mind Olivia in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Like Olivia Paul is consumed by grief and as such has chosen to cloister himself away, shutting himself off from any sort of romantic interest. Since the death of his wife five years prior Paul’s socialisation it seems has been limited to his next door neighbour and best friend the cantankerous archivist Viktor (Pierre Richard) and to the recently bereaved, for whom he writes. Having given up on fiction since his loss the author now only writes eulogies. Which he writes using information gained during interviews with the commissioning loved ones, whereby he learns of the deceased’s characters and various idiosyncrasies, “what was really foxy about her was that she had very small feet,” explains one mourner. Paul’s only wish it seems is that he is allowed to quietly wallow in grief, “soaking up the emotion” of these fresh grievers.
And indeed he seems set to remain Olivia-like, despite Viktor’s best efforts to get him dating, until Emma (Julie Gayet), two years widowed, turns up at his door requesting that he write the tale of her husband for the birthday party of her maladjusted eight year old son Adam (Jules Rotenberg). Paul as he says does “funerals not birthdays” but of course beautiful Emma persuades him. The romantic trajectory here is obvious yet the way in which the film plays it out is anything but. Mid-way through comes a magical-realist twist, involving a wish-giving toy monkey and the walking dead. Lanoo and writer Francois Uzan however manage to balance the strange unreality of their plot with poignant, realistic performances and a thankful lack of special effects. And the film never becomes overly maudlin, as it could considering its themes of grief and romance and considering it’s setting; Christmas time in Paris!
The interactions between macabre Paul and grouchy, meddling Viktor are especially pleasurable to watch. The men fight in the supermarket over the state of sub-standard produce, get rip-roaring drunk together and (middle-aged) drunk-dial Emma. Jules Rotenberg is also very good as son Adam, not overly cutesy as some child-actors are.
A charming, funny take on loss, remembrance and love. Enjoy with a large glass of vin rouge!
Paper souls is on general release from Friday January 16th.