2007. 96 minutes. unrated.
This foreign film examines the ripple effect of a kiss that launches an affair in a story-within-a-story framework. It didn’t win any major awards. It lacks the warmth of an American romantic comedy. It’s subtitled, which may be a stumbling block for some film buffs. But Shall We Kiss? is a pretty (and a pretty decent) film: well-composed, well-plotted, and well worth your time.
When Emilie (Julie Gayet), a businesswoman lost in a provencal town, accepts a ride from Gabriel (Michael Cohen), a kind stranger, he invites her to dinner upon arriving at her hotel destination. It’s clear from their body language they are attracted, but at the end of the evening, when he asks for a kiss without consequences, she hesitates, then says it’s a bad idea, because there are always unintended consequences, in her experience.
He wants to know the story behind this assertion, so they find a place to have another drink, close down the bar, and the retire to her room for the rest of the conversation. The remainder of the film shifts back and forth from this frame to a tale of Emilie’s friend Judith (Virginie Ledoyen), who decides to help her best friend Nicholas (Emmanuel Mouret) with his “problem” (he’s horny, but wants to be with someone he connects with, because kissing is an important part of lovemaking for him, and he doesn’t want kiss someone he doesn’t care about–how very Pretty Woman of him!). They commence an affair and two discover have sexual chemistry together like with no one else, and hatch a plot to spring Judith from her marriage to the kind and unsuspecting Claudio (Stefano Accorsi).
Things I love:
The Air of Intrigue
Many little mysteries propel the narrative. How does Emilie know the intimate details of this tale? What will happen with Judith and Nicholas and Claudio? Will Emilie and Gabriel kiss?
In at least two scenes (most notably when Gabriel and Emilie are having dinner) the camera views the actors from enough distance that we can’t hear the dialogue and have to surmise their conversation by reading their body language. It works.
The director uses color to evoke mood in a number of scenes; in one, Emilie is shown in part profile, smoking, looking pensive, in a blue wash. It’s an extremely effective way to show what she is feeling–dissatisfied or unfulfilled or unhappy–with her current situation–before she herself knows it.
There is something lacking in this film for me. I didn’t care a lot about the characters, and I’m not sure why; the storytelling is what hooked me. I did like the element of pathos that brings to mind films like Love & Other Drugs or The Breakup. Shall We Kiss? might be better termed a relationship movie than a rom-com, but it’s very much worth a look.