Shall We Kiss? (Music Box Films, NR)

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shallwekiss1.jpgOf course you can't open the floodgates just a crack, and before long Judith and Nicolas fall for each other for real. That raises the problem of what to do about Judith's husband Claudio and Nicolas's girlfriend Caline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It may be that a cigar is sometimes just a cigar, but is a kiss ever just a kiss? Or as Émilie (Juliet Gayet) puts it, is there such a thing as a kiss of no consequence? Gabriel (Michaël Cohen) thinks so, Émilie does not, and she backs her view up with a tale of two friends who find that the even the most well-intentioned of actions can have consequences far beyond those imagined by the parties involved.

Gabriel and Émilie are characters in Emmanuel Mouret's romantic comedy Shall We Kiss? They meet cute, decide to have a bit of a flirt, and when it's time to say goodbye Gabriel wants to seal the evening with a kiss which Émilie declines, then prolongs the flirtation by telling him the story of her friends Judith and Nicolas over more than a few glasses of wine. Francophiles take note: The French title, "Un baiser s'il vouz plait," or "a kiss, please," is actually truer to the film than the official English title.

Judith (Virginie Ledoyen) and Nicolas (Mouret) are the best of platonic friends who understand each other perfectly and tell each other everything, like best buddies at summer camp. Then one day they decide to chance a kiss (and quite a bit more) despite Judith being married and Nicolas actively dating other women. It's meant as an act of charity on Judith's part: Nicolas is having a bit of trouble with the ladies, or rather with part of his anatomy in conjunction with the ladies, and Judith offers her services as a surrogate.

Of course you can't open the floodgates just a crack, and before long Judith and Nicolas fall for each other for real. That raises the problem of what to do about Judith's husband Claudio (Stefano Accorsi) and Nicolas's girlfriend Caline (Frédérique Bel). Why not set them up to meet cute, just like in the framing story?

And that's the secret to the charm of Shall We Kiss? It takes place in an obviously fictional world where everyone is sophisticated and beautiful and lives in great apartments and you know that nothing really bad can ever happen. The parallels between the two stories are one device Mouret uses to underline this point, and he also establishes a clear and entirely artificial hierarchy of beauty: Émilie and Gabriel rule the first tier, Judith and Nicholas occupy the second (you Oklahoma! fans can think of them as the somewhat goofy Ado Annie and Will, while Émilie and Gabriel are the romantic leads Laurey and Curly) while the spouses/significant others are relegated to the third tier.

The art direction underlines the slightly unreal nature of the story. Claudio and Judith live in an impossibly beige apartment, and portraits appear in background shots far more frequently than they would in real life. The nearly continuous soundtrack is another reminder that we've left the real world behind: it's mostly classical, along with some well-chosen pop tunes including "Matilda" (whom you will recall "took all my money and ran a-Venezuela"). But nothing is ever heavy handed or obvious, and that goes for the cinematography as well, which never draws attention to itself.

While the story of Shall We Kiss? takes place in an obviously fictional world, the emotional truth of the characters and their interactions is as real as in the most naturalistic drama. It's a distinctively French type of film, which seems as light as air yet also tells profound truths about the human experience. | Sarah Boslaugh

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