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New Release Review - Paper Souls

A writer of funeral elegies falls for a widow, only for her dead husband to return from the grave.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Vincent Lannoo

Starring: Stéphane Guillon, Julie Gayet, Jonathan Zaccaï, Pierre Richard



When it comes to movies from beyond the English speaking world, French movies travel better than most. Without pandering to international audiences, Gallic cinema has managed to stick to its own cultural guns while exporting its produce to arthouse theatres the world over. Global audiences have embraced various strands of French cinema, from gun-toting gangster flicks to hardcore lesbian romances. One type of French movie that hasn't fared so well outside its homeland is the Gallic comedy. Paper Souls is a perfect example of why this is.
Stéphane Guillon (picture Ben Stiller if he smoked three packs of Gauloises a day) is Paul, a former novelist who lost the will to write fiction when his wife passed away five years ago. Now he ekes out a living writing funeral elegies for those less creative than himself. When attractive widow Emma (Gayet) acquires his services, Paul finds himself falling head over heels for his client. Emma's photographer hubby Nathan (Zaccaï) was killed by a landmine while overseas in a wartorn country, and she hopes an elegy from Paul will help her young son finally move on. Just as Paul and Emma embark on a courtship, Nathan returns from the dead, and it seems Paul's elegies may be imbued with a supernatural power.
Vincent Lannoo's movie has a very promising setup. A beleaguered elegy writer seems the perfect foil for some blackly comic existential angst, and the idea of a believed deceased husband throwing a spanner in the works of a new relationship should be a comedic goldmine. But Paper Souls frosts over at the point it should really be heating up. Once Nathan returns from the grave, the film doesn't seem to know where to take the story, and we're left with a bunch of characters scratching their heads as we wait for them to deliver nonexistent laughs. Even the film's soundtrack composer doesn't seem to understand the brief, delivering a John Barry score when the scenario calls for Henry Mancini.
There are some great grizzled Gallic faces on display here, but Lannoo settles for silly gurning from his confused cast. A laugh-free comedy, Paper Souls can be filed alongside the likes of Looking for Hortense and Paris-Manhattan in a box (or preferably a trash can) marked 'Misjudged French Woody Allen Ripoff'.




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