ON IN CINEMAS
EIFF 2019: Emma Peeters (2018) directed by Nicole Palo
N.B. This film is not on general release in the UK at present. It is showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on Friday 21st June 2019.
A struggling actress gives up more than her career
This Belgian-Canadian black comedy features Monia Chokri as the titular Emma Peeters. She’s a struggling Belgian actress residing in Paris whose sole (dubious) claim to fame is a starring role in a washing powder commercial. Now that she is close to the age of 35, she has resigned herself to the belief that she will never be able to fulfil her dreams.
In fact, she decides that it would be best to just throw the towel in on life on her 35th birthday - just days away. To this end, she visits a local funeral director named Alex (Fabrice Adde) in order to arrange her own departure ceremony. However, things get complicated when she decides to have her final one-night stand with him - and he ends up falling for her.
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A stylish suicide comedy
Emma Peeters certainly isn’t the first comedy to broach the sensitive subject of suicide. Nonetheless, it manages to find its own distinctive, simultaneously quirky and non-patronising voice in this particular corner of the great wide cinematic universe.
Monia Chokri is just pitch-perfect as an unassuming but rather jaded woman on the cusp of middle age. By the standards of many other people, her character has her fair share of blessings: her flat in Paris may not exactly be the most grandiose (then again, Paris isn’t a cheap place to live) but she’s clearly smart, heavily doted on by her parents, attractive to the opposite sex and valued by her coworkers (she is awarded “employee of the month” at her day job working in an electronics shop). Nonetheless, she brushes all of these off with an air of glum irritability.
When she makes the decision to end her life, she paradoxically finds a brief sense of newfound drive. Most of the film’s (frequently funny) humour comes from her planning out the manner of her own demise with the help of Alex and some Japanese online videos. What could have come across as being crass and tasteless works well because the film (written and directed by Nicole Palo) possesses a genuine sense of empathy for its main protagonist without tugging too cloyingly on the heartstrings.
Emma Peeters also has an undeniable sense of style right from its neat opening credit animations. Some of its homages feel overly self-conscious; there’s a fairytale depiction of the Parisian district of Montmartre which is a little too clearly modelled on Amélie (2001) plus a brief but entirely superfluous silent film pastiche. However, the overall dreamlike mood effectively conveys the radical (if not exactly positive) change of direction in life which its protagonist has taken.
While the film’s outcome isn’t all that surprising if you’ve seen a number of others in the “suicide comedy” sub-genre, everything up to then has been infused with enough charm to make the journey there feel fresh. It also features cinema’s best onscreen cat since A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014).
Runtime: 88 mins
Dir: Nicole Palo
Script: Nicole Palo
Starring: Monia Chokri, Fabrice Adde, Stéphanie Crayencour, Andréa Ferréol, Anne Sylvain, Jean-Henri Compère