Amusing and earnest, the Francophiles may swoon

Shall We Kiss? (Un baiser s'il vous plait)

on February 13, 2009 by Wade Major

Despite continued comparisons to the films of Woody Allen and Eric Rohmer, actor/writer/director Emmanuel Mouret’s Shall We Kiss? is actually more representative of a very personal aesthetic—that of a certain post-New Wave Gallic sensibility that has too infrequently found its way into the movies, in large part because it’s so antithetical to what is typically expected of French filmmakers. Utterly lacking in guile or cynicism, Shall We Kiss? actually plays more like John Cassavetes channeled through Oscar Wilde, a wry but gentle romantic comedy that is both romantic and comedic without wallowing in the excesses of either. Minor crossover appeal to non-arthouse patrons will help bolster numbers, though Francophiles largely starved of solid fare in recent years will account for the film’s strongest demographic.

As the title suggests, this is a movie about the profound implications of an innocent kiss. A savvy frame story sets up and pays off the parable as a Parisian businesswoman (Julie Gayet) arrives in Nantes and agrees to have dinner with Gabriel (Michael Cohen), the man who kindly offered her a ride. When he requests just such an innocent goodnight kiss, she declines, recounting another story as justification. The film shifts abruptly to this amusing yet earnest tale of romantic woe as best friends Judith and Nicolas (Virginie Ledoyen and Mouret) innocently breach the barrier between lovers and friends, inviting unexpectedly catastrophic and touching consequences.

The Woody Allen comparison is superficial but understandable—Mouret’s Nicolas is an Allen-esque nebbish with romantic troubles galore, while Ledoyen’s happily married lab assistant Judith is precisely the kind of impossible “catch” one might expect particularly from Woody’s ’70s and ’80s periods. But the scenario here is more complex—believing their friendship strong enough to withstand anything, Judith offers herself to Nicolas as a kind of sex surrogate, hoping to help her buddy out of his doldrums. Naturally, it proves only the beginning of both of their troubles.

Mouret’s spare, unadorned staging is a smart and conscious choice—is lends credibility to otherwise incredulous decisions and situations but also helps focus the viewer on the emotional realities which a Hollywood comedy—even a Woody Allen comedy—might blithely blunt with a more conventional approach befitting a “high concept” premise.

On the other hand, the astonishing downsizing of such a premise to something more accessible, more intimate, more altogether honest is Mouret’s profoundly unique gift and one which audiences should increasingly welcome as his star—as both a filmmaker and actor—continues to rise.

Distributor: Music Box Films
Cast: Virginie Ledoyen, Emmanuel Mouret, Julie Gayet and Stefano Accorsi
Director/Screenwriter: Emmanuel Mouret
Producer: Frédéric Niedermayer
Genre: Romantic Comedy, French-language; subtitled
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 102 min.

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