Paul (Stephane Guillon) was once a successful novelist, but finds himself on the downswing of his career, writing eulogies for grieving families. When he is approached by Emma (Julie Gayet) to write a speech about her deceased husband, to be read at her son’s birthday party, Paul finds himself falling for the woman and her precocious son. The budding romance is thrown into chaos however, when Emma’s dead husband Nathan (Jonathan Zaccai) appears at Paul’s door one night, with no memory of what happened to him, or how he found himself back in Paris.
Paper Souls, at first glance, seems like a predictable love story set in a slightly unconventional world. As the film goes on, however, it becomes clear that this is still a slightly predictable tale, but it is set in a whimsical, unpredictable and offbeat world.
Stephane Guillon plays the role of a man whose life fell apart a long time ago, and who never quite got it back together. Guillon is stubborn yet gentle, gruff yet kind, and is a strong centre of the film. Julie Gayet plays Emma as a kind and strong woman who has manages to move on from tragedy in a way that Paul has not. Jules Rotenberg, as the young Adam, is a sweet and funny kid, who obviously found chemistry with his co-stars. Jonathan Zaccai swings from bewilderment to anger, but balances both rather well. The rest of the cast is made up of Pierre Richard as an eccentric researcher, and Claudine Baschet as another of Paul’s neighbours. Each character is dealing with tragedy and death, and each is trying to come to terms with it in their own way.
Screenwriter Francois Uzan has created a world of whimsy and tragedy in Paper Souls, but never seems too concerned with the metaphysical rules when it comes to bringing people back from the dead. Instead, Uzan explains away the phenomenon with some vague references to love and magic and, while this works initially, the magic wears off a little as the film goes on.
Director Vincent Lannoo could easily have made Paper Souls a tragic film about love and loss, but instead captures the tone of people wanting to celebrate life, but not being entirely sure how to do such a thing. There are plenty of slightly absurd moments throughout the film, which lead to giggles, and underline the magical, whimsical feels of the film, but the feeling that we know all too well how this is going to end up is dominant throughout and, while this is a sweet journey to go on, very little is done to prove audience suspicions wrong.
In all, Paper Souls is a sweet, whimsical and slightly absurd examination of living after death. The film captures the magical feel of Paris and wishes that come true, but doesn’t overly concern itself with the logic of the dead reappearing, or ultimately being anything less than predictable.