Shall We Kiss? (2007) / Romance-Comedy
aka Un baiser s'il vous plais
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for some nudity, sexuality and language
Running time: 96 min.
Cast: Virginie Ledoyen, Emmanuel Mouret, Julie Gayet, Michael Cohen, Frederique Bel, Stefano Accorsi
Director: Emmanuel Mouret
Screenplay: Emmanuel Mouret
Parisian Samaritan Gabriel (Cohen, Little Jerusalem) gives a stranger, Emilie (Gayet, My Best Friend), a lift home when she finds herself in need of a cab, and the two share a conversation home that suggests an attraction between them. As they start to say their goodbyes, he finds himself unable to quite let go, and she seems amenable to continuing to pursue the conversation during dinner. As smooth as things are going, there is a bit of an impasse when Gabriel leans over to give Emilie a goodbye kiss. She balks, as she is already involved, as is he. Though he professes his kiss would be innocent, Emilie begins to relate a story, told over the course of the rest of the evening, longtime platonic friends Judith (Ledoyen, Bon Voyage) and Nicolas (Mouret, Change of Address), two other lovers who claimed they would have a no-strings, one-time affair to cure Nicolas's feelings of loneliness, only to find that they cannot stop once they've gone down that road.
Woody Allen done French-style as writer-director-star Emmanuel Mouret weaves a simple romantic tale of love and infidelity told mostly through the use of flashbacks and voiceovers. Like Allen's smaller, more well-known films, it's a vehicle carried mostly on inward-delving dialogue, with characters plagued by doubt and fears, all the while their inner desires take their bodies to places that their minds tell them it's wrong to go. It's an amiable romantic tale, told with just the right tone and flair for the material, though Mouret's handling of some of the story's more whimsical moments (a cell phone is stolen negating an important phone call, for instance) come off a bit more manipulative and contrived than Allen.
Also like Allen, Mouret's choice of casting himself in the film does undermine some of the potential plausibility, as it becomes a quandary as to why such gorgeous women might choose to indulge in relations to a character that comes off as unattractive and awkward. However, whereas we can forgive Allen for narcissism because his characters were genuinely amusing enough to enjoy the film more by his performance, Mouret doesn't have the same gift as a comedian, and he comes off as a bit too creepy to buy as suitable and too weasely in his attempts to work situations in his favor to find sympathetic.
Sometimes I have difficulty admiring French romances, as they often exalt dalliances as an ideal to pursue, while the person who is loyal and good ends up with nothing in the end. Perhaps one can praise them for being anti-Hollywood in execution, but it is so persistent that it becomes a cliché in itself, once you've seen your share. Shall We Kiss? isn't different in this regard, as my preconceived notions about French romance films came to play out as predicted, and the only question meant to be answered is whether Emilie and Gabriel consummate their attraction for one another once her story is over. To that end, I felt a bit indifferent, as by the time she sprawls herself out in the private confines of a hotel room bed, she's either a cock tease at best or a philanderer at worst, so whatever sympathies I might have had were dissolved by the time Mouret gets around to answering the ultimate question.
Of course, that's small potatoes compared to what we witness between the protagonists of her story, who habitually give in to their indiscretions time and again, to the point where they feel like they shouldn't stop. A particularly unsavory ripple in their affair emerges when they begin to scheme a way to remove Judith's boyfriend Claudio (Accorsi, The Last Kiss) from the picture by enticing him to have an affair of his own, and with Nicolas's ex Caline (Bel, Camping) no less. From a character standpoint, it makes little sense, as the two involved in the would-be relationship never seem to be able to relate to one another in anything but a sexual manner after their initial breaking of their friendship.
There is a revelation near the end of the film that lets us know that Emilie isn't a complete stranger to the story, though it is somewhat disingenuous to believe that she would know all of the details of the story as presented, if true. Nevertheless, the lesson learned that sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss carries through, and as such, one might even argue that wandering eyes are best left to that body part alone if you aren't prepared for the ensuing tumult. Does it always make sense from a story standpoint with these characters, Not especially. However, such quandaries go by largely absent from the mind as the film plays out, garnering a recommendation for French film and Woody Allen-style stories. It's not the next Annie Hall or Purple Rose of Cairo, but even Allen himself hasn't been able to quite nail down his own style in the genre he helped reinvent (the heavily French influenced Vicky Cristina Barcelona notwithstanding), so it is like just a kiss between strangers -- provocative and refreshing, even if it isn't completely satiating.
©2009 Vince Leo