Following the tragic loss of his wife, Paul (Stéphane Guillon) abandons his career as a novelist and commits himself to a life amongst the dead, writing funeral elegies for despairing widows. He lives alone, characterised by the charming yet typical detachment of the failed, grieving writer, his only companions being his two elderly neighbours.
However, when an intriguing stranger called Emma (Julie Gayet) requests his services, Paul reluctantly agrees to write about her late husband, a photojournalist who died whilst working abroad. Bound together by grief and their shared aim to help Emma’s young son come to terms with his father’s death, the couple’s situation has the makings of a predictable rom-com, that is, until Emma’s dead husband turns up at Paul’s apartment in the middle of the night.
Directed by Vincent Lannoo, the film arguably nods towards Woody Allen in its comic approach to human tragedy, although, perhaps it falls a bit short in the seamless transitions between the highs and the lows. In its blending of the typical Parisian rom-com with an air of the supernatural, Paper Souls should be a warming (if a little far-fetched) story of love in the aftermath of loss. However, when Emma’s husband, Nathan (Jonathan Zaccaï), returns from the dead, the story seems to hit a bump in the road.
As the characters embark upon a tense reorganisation of the roles of wife, lover, ex-husband and son, the initial light-hearted humour of the film is briefly lost. And without the playful comedy, the film enters into generic limbo; it suffers from being a bit too series and yet, not serious enough. However, thanks to a comical street-brawl between Paul and Nathan, followed by Nathan’s return to the land of the dead, the cloud of doom is eventually lifted, and the (slightly clichéd) rom-com resumes.
As is the case with many predictable romantic comedies, the film owes its success to the supporting characters, Hortense (Claudine Baschet) and Victor (Pierre Richard), Paul’s two eccentric elderly neighbours. Whilst Hortense’s alternative version of canine-romance adds to the quaint humour of the film, Victor’s sub-plot is perhaps its most touching aspect. Living in a cluttered apartment, filled with decade’s worth of research on his brother’s untimely death, Victor provides the main source of the film’s eccentric charm.
It is Paul’s relationship with Victor that carries the most impact, as they spend evenings fuelling their quirks through cigarettes, alcohol and familiar mockery, whilst helping each other to come to terms with the past, however painful.
If you can withstand the mid-point slump and its tendency towards cliché, the film would make for an amusing (albeit low-key) afternoon viewing, if only for the depiction of Paul and Victor’s unlikely friendship.
Director: Vincent Lannoo
Starring: Stéphane Guillon, Julie Gayet, Jonathan Zaccaï , Pierre Richard
Running Time: 90 mins
Release Date: 15 June 2015