Film - Emma Peeters

On next week at Raindance Film Festival, Tony Cross finds a lot to feel good about in watching Emma Peeters...

Let’s start with the easy bit. I loved Emma Peeters, which is a witty, suicide rom-com from Belgian-American writer-director Nicole Palo. And yes, I did say suicide rom-com.

It’s the story of Emma Peeters (Monia Chokri) whose acting career hasn’t gone beyond the heights of one memorable commercial. She’s about to turn thirty-five, the expiry date for actresses apparently, so she decides that she is going to commit suicide on the day of her 35th birthday. So far, so dark.

She involves funeral director, Alex (Fabrice Adde) by asking him to organise her funeral and there we begin to move into the realms of the romantic comedy. As her last few days pan out and she says goodbye to her parents and friends but not quite her cat, Jim. In those last days though she gets a chance to enjoy herself again and fall in love. But is it all too little, too late?

It plays out like a slightly bizarre alternative universe version of Amelie, although it is less of a quest. Perhaps that’s me being swayed by the Parisian setting a little too much. But it did feel like someone had seen Amelie and felt there wasn’t enough potential suicide in it.

Finding comedy and redemption in potential suicide is, of course, an odd thing to do but it can be done. I’m thinking not just of this film but also Hannes Holm’s ‘A Man Called Ove’. It takes a certain finesse to pull it off and Nicole Palo manages to do so.

It helps that Monia Chokri’s central performance as Emma Peeters is so brilliant. She starts off almost as deadpan as Buster Keaton. There’s a moment when an alternative therapist she is visiting says that he can’t feel any energy vibrations from her, which is impossible. Unless she’s dead. But there’s layers that are unpeeled until the whole of Emma Peeters is revealed.

Fabrice Adde as Alex is an appealingly gawky presence throughout. When he finds out she intends to kill herself he doesn’t try and stop her but instead suddenly crops up throughout her life. But it looks like it isn’t going to be enough. Emma seems determined to go through with it, even when she’s scared. The film twists a little here and you get some unexpected emotional heft.

The supporting cast are great. The gay hairdressers whose salon Emma lives above might initially look like a cliché but in the end they’re not. There’s her friend, Lulu, played with rather endearingly by Stéphanie Crayencour. Lulu is young and beautiful but equally failing to become an actress. Andréa Ferréol plays her elderly friend Bernadette.

I might have missed something, but I wasn’t sure what Bernadette’s relationship was. Whether they were related or just friends. They shared Bernadette’s house once. Perhaps that’s just it. I don’t know why I’m dwelling on it as it really doesn’t matter. I should strike this out really, but I like to show my workings.

But fundamentally this film stands on the fine script and direction of Nicole Palo combined with the two great central performances from Monia Chokri and Fabrice Adde. I recommend it highly. I cried a little, I laughed, I felt suitably awkward at one or two moments and I worried for Jim the Cat. What more do you want from a film?

Emma Peeters screens at Raindance on 24th and 25th September. Find out more and book tickets.

Image - Nicole Palo/Raindance
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