Emma Peeters (Palo, 2018): Belgium, Canada

Reviewed by Matheus Clorado. Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2019.

Contemplate the despair of Emma Peeters, a struggling artist who’s been feeling invisible for nearly ten years. Portrayed by Monia Chokri, Emma’s expression is full of indifference right from the start, getting us on the same page with this exhausted woman. She’s trapped in her routine, and about to turn 35 years old – which becomes another reason for anxiety as she’s told 35 is supposedly the expiration date for actresses.

Unsatisfied with her daytime job and hopeless about landing any acting jobs, Emma convinces us through her nearly silent performance and magnificent reactions that she will celebrate her birthday by ending it all. That’s a fact, it’s down to paper, she’ll commit suicide on her birthday. Not shocking enough, clever writer/director Nicole Palo has her protagonist research a method that will be most comfortable to her as well as compose a bucket list of things she’d rather take care of before passing the threshold.

The humor is smart and subtle here, hidden in expressions, interactions and between the lines. As a viewer, you will catch yourself giggling and looking around for the humor police, just in case. That’s the magic in Emma Peeters – Palo skillfully takes the audience to different places, bringing thought to mental health in a relaxed way, opening the dialogue with right amounts of irony and sarcasm.

Fabrice Adde comes to the story with a powerful presence, raising it to a tricky romantic comedy where the couple is already doomed, yet in an unusual manner. Emma has meticulously chosen death over life – can love be enough to change her mind?

Nicole Palo’s second feature is an outstanding take on life, love, death and time itself. Its mise-en-scène enriches the storytelling and the cast’s technique precisely conveys the balance between humor and vulnerability that we need to stay with Emma throughout her journey.

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