Emma Peeters (Monica Chokri) is a failing actress living in Paris and nearing 35, yet to make it further than commercials and extra work. She believes that an actress becomes irrelevant once they turn 35. Depressed by her failure and toppled over the edge by winning employee of the month in her filler job at an electronics store, she decides to kill herself a week later, on her birthday. She starts enjoying the little moments and is finally encouraged to stop worrying about her age and her career.
The film soon takes a romantic turn with one of the most innovative meet cutes in years. Emma meets Alex (Fabrice Adde), a funeral director who handles her funeral arrangements, who believes she is suffering from a terminal illness. Their courtship dips into a farce without ever being insensitive. She’s using him for sex and access to death-inducing drugs, he’s trying to help her with a bucket list. The decision to end her life unexpectedly invigorates it.
He thinks she is dying from an unspecified terminal illness; her parents think she’s moving away to start a new career, her friends think she’s going travelling, and all the expected humour ensues. There’s nothing too innovative and it’s all covered in sugar, but Emma and Alex are impossible to dislike as a couple. The pair offer a whimsy and naivety that’s incredibly endearing.
Writer/director Nicole Palo frames our wide-eyed character like the melodramatic heroine she always wanted to be. Second-time director Palo does a great job of mixing farcical black comedy and the genuine tragedy of suicide.
The perfectly pitched performance of Monia Chokri plus some sensitive writing, means that anyone who has been affected by mental health issues or suicide isn’t likely to offended by the comedic and slightly whimsical tone of the script. The writing is masterful at never mocking anyone who feels like a suicidal failure, but it also doesn’t delve very deeply into why Emma feels so desperate to die. If you’re looking for an insight into mental health, suicide and the feelings of failure that lead to such drastic action, this isn’t that film. Emma Peeters never drifts far away enough from the margin to really let the dark story line unfold.
People will easily compare this film to Amelie due to the offbeat comedy and tangential fantasy sequences. These sequences play homage to Bergman, silent cinema and French New Wave. The idealised Paris she lives in is reminiscent of that of Amelie, only our leading lady is much darker than Tautou’s title character. Emma is disillusioned and trying to cling on to her girlish charm as she continuously fails to connect to those around her.
Emma Peeters is ultimately a little too sugary and never deviates far away from the expected framework of a romantic comedy, even if the subject is a little darker than the norm. But even with the taboo subject matter, Emma Peeters never loses its wit, self-awareness and hope. It’s hard to not totally be charmed by this world.
Emma Peeters screened at Raindance Festival on September 24th
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia Harvey is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy