Disappointing supernatural dramedy from Vincent Lannoo about love and loss
It’s not unreasonable to say that, in recent times, the French have set the standard for eccentric existential comedies; from Jeunet to Gondry, there is clearly something about the Gallic sense of humour that compliments wildly absurd situations. It’s this weight of expectation that makes this alternative dramedy from French screenwriter François Uzan a bit of a damp squib in comparison to its peers.
Directed by the Belgian filmmaker Vincent Lannoo, the film centres around Paul (Stéphane Guillon) a Parisian novelist who, in the wake of his wife’s death, has taken to writing touching eulogies. He is approached by Emma (Julie Gayet) to write a personal account of the life of her late husband Nathan (Jonathan Zaccaï). Things begin to develop romantically between the two, that is, until Nathan rises from the grave with seemingly no recollection of his former life.
Uzan wants Paper Souls to work on two levels. Firstly, as a psychological study of loss and, secondly, as a darkly comic parable that draws humour from the weakness of its characters. Unfortunately, it only occasionally feels like a well realised union, with the film listlessly stuck between its opposing positions.
A shining light is offered up by the performance of Guillon who, with a single crestfallen look, transforms his character from a reproachable, amoral opportunist to a sympathetic widower. With the support of a sharper script, his natural comic timing could have given much needed buoyancy to a film that, for the most part, is short on laughs.
Paper Souls eventually unveils itself as a cautionary tale about keeping memories of the deceased sacred, as well as the importance of letting go. It’s an unsatisfying, maudlin conclusion to a rather insignificant supernatural offering. And while its central preoccupation may lie with matters of the soul, this film’s ultimate undoing seems to stem from its inherent lack of heart.
Selected release from Fri 16 Jan.