Emma Peeters (Nicole Palo, 2018): Canada | Belgium

Reviewed by William Edwards at the Santa Barbara Film Festival 2109.

I found this movie both delightful and inventive.  You can definitely refer to it as a “dark comedy” since it navigates a very taboo subject: suicide.  That inevitably invites the social requirement: if you our a loved one has attempted or even gone through with a suicide, this type of movie may not be your cup of tea and may even come across as distasteful.

However, if these initial conditions are overcome, in my view, it is a very well-thought our and polished comedy.  For one thing, it’s one of the rare movies that shows a relationship between a person and their undertaker and this emerges from the general story: a 35 year old woman appears to be going nowhere with her life, so she decides that the solution to her problem is suicide.  And all sorts of humorous situations occur including a wacky relationship with a rather…well, wacky undertaker, her undertaker who she has enlisted to handle her suicide which she has meticulously organized.  Also, included in this narrative are Shakespearean misunderstandings and other plot devices which moves the plot along in very interesting directions that make it very entertaining.  Of course, since this is a comedy, the plot could not very well take the narrative to it’s logical conclusion – an actual suicide – which would inevitably convert it into a tragedy – which the viewerw would intuitively realize – nevertheless, this movie has underpinnings which I believe are something of the nature of the “philosophical”.

Without giving too much of the narrative away, the whole exercise of taking a life has very much to do with how we “make a life” and the movie does address these rather fundamental, philosophical questions.  After all, Emma, at least during the start of the movie does not appear at first blush to be living the life of derelict or even degradation.  She has a job, she has a family, she has friends and she has a nice apartment.  So, that begs the question: why is she attempting suicide?   And that’s actually the Journey of the movie.

What she actually finds out is that life is not about what is given but what you make of it.  And that’s very much what we see right from the get-go: Emma has a bad attitude.  In fact, I found myself not liking her because of this and I realized that was the whole point and that’s why the actress Monica Chokri does such a good job here.  Some comes across as something of the order of unattractive, even though she is physically attractive.  And consider this: an unattractive personality is often having trouble with existence – that’s why they’re complaining, criticizing and bitching…or just doesn’t care.   And what Emma Peeters learns is not that it’s a “Wonderful life” but that we have the potential to “make something of our life” which in my view, is what life’s really about.  So, in this case, what we start out with is something of a dingy comedy, but ends up to be something more profound; even much like Groundhog Day.  We can change things – through our attitude and intention adjustment – and make something rich out of something sour.  And perhaps that’s why the writer started with a taboo and dramatic subject: a suicide, because after all, the viewer will realize that her decision to live has something to do with how she “handled life”.


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