French film, and in particular French comedy, is a strange thing. Paper Souls (or Les Âmes De Papier as it is properly named) follows in a tradition of films unsure of what it is they want to achieve. Shot in a way reminiscent of a Woody Allen comedy and dealing with subjects similar to Anthony Minghella’s Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990) the film follows a man, Paul (Stéphane Guillon), who writes eulogies for a living. Unfortunately, he falls in love with a widow and his job of bringing the dead husband to life in speech becomes ironically twisted when her dead husband turns up fully alive on his doorstep.
In parts comedy and romantic comedy, the film sees Paul embark on a journey of self-discovery, sparked by the request to write the eulogy from Emma (Julie Gayet), whose husband died abroad, and whose son has become disconnected from the world.
Director: Vincent Lanoo
Starring: Stéphane Guillon, Julie Gayet, Jonathan ZaccaÏ, Pierre Richard
Release Date: February 27th
Early scenes of budding romance and tender moments would give the impression that this film was a textbook case of romance: guy gets the girl, the kid opens up, and we all live happily ever after. Happily the dead husband, Nathan (Jonathan Zaccaï), arrives and throws a comic spanner into the works to get the film up to pace.
The film is a whimsical comedy of errors. The inconveniences of keeping a man who ought to be dead out of sight of his widow, explaining his presence when found out, and everything else that goes along with posthumous concealment, is riotously funny. What holds this film together, however, and stops it from falling from the realm of whimsical to that of flimsy and pastiche, is the solid cast of supporting actors and momentary subplots (or sub-thoughts) which appear throughout the film. One in particular, concerning Victor, Paul’s aged neighbour (Pierre Richard), adds a depth and poignancy to this film that contrasts beautifully with the main action (and you would be hard-pushed to find a better ice-breaker than “So… have you heard about the Warsaw Ghetto?”) It becomes a delicate exploration of grief and mourning, and yet remains light-hearted, refusing to sink into the territory of maudlin sob stories.
Overall, Paper Souls is a beautifully balanced film, taking elements of comedy and poignancy in good measure, and layering them over the inimitable backdrop that is Paris, with scenes such as the Pont des Arts nearly becoming characters in their own right. It is a film of few flaws, and those it has may be excused by its understated triumphs. And barring a few profusions of questionable language, it is also a film which has much to offer everybody, regardless of age group.
In A Nutshell: A funny, fantastical, surrealist comedy that crosses genres and stands as a uniquely hilarious piece of art. Definitely worthy of a watch.