Emma Peeters 2018 ****

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Difficulty level 10 would be a fair assessment of the suicide comedy; most film-makers struggle to raise laughs, never mind find humour in the most mordant of subjects. Even Billy Wilder’s Buddy Buddy was a misfire. To pull this particular sword from the stone, step forward Nicole Palo, a writer/director who hasn’t made a film in ten years and yet conjures up something of a miracle with Emma Peeters, a Belgian/Canadian co-production filmed in Belleville with French dialogue. That’s not something that should put casual viewers off; Palo’s film has a unique and accessible storyline and engaging characters; as it makes its way onto the festival circuit, it would be a great pick up for distributors or streaming services alike. Emma Peeters (Monia Chokri) is an actress, fed up and a few days short of her 35th birthday. Fearing her career is over, and embarrassed by being constantly recognised for a detergent commercial, Emma decides to kill herself, but strikes up an unusual relationship with Alex (Fabrice Adde) the local funeral-director. He’s happy to help her, as he sees ending your life to be an act of free will, but as their friendship blossoms, it’s clear that Emma’s goal is increasingly in doubt. Despite the dark subject, Emma Peeters is a bright, clever and sharply-observed comedy; a scene in which Emma’s parents misunderstand that Alex is helping her plan a holiday is perfectly handled. And the intervention of a cat named Jim also proves crucial to the feel-good ending; Palo’s film has some of the button-cuteness that audiences loved in Amilie, but it’s harnessed to a very different subject. Chokri and Abbe are great together, he’s got a hangdog Jermaine Clement style that matches her off-kilter energy, and the film has a genuinely romantic streak. Emma Peeters not only deals with suicide, but getting old and feeling lonely; to turn such subjects into an assured comedy is alchemy of the highest order.

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