Directed by: Emmanuel Mouret
Starring: Virginie Ledoyen, Emmanuel Mouret, Jule Gayet, Michaël Cohen, Frédérique Bel, Stefano Accorsi
It would be easy—even tempting—to overpraise Emmanuel Mouret’s Shall We Kiss? simply because it hit town the same week as what Hollywood is currently peddling as a romantic comedy, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Mouret’s film is both more romantic and funnier than Ghosts (but then so is Pulp Fiction (1994)). As a result, this Gallic confection feels like not only a small masterpiece, but like an object lesson for everything that’s wrong with the American romantic comedy. Still, this doesn’t make Shall We Kiss? a masterpiece, except by contrast. Looked at on its own, it’s simply a very good little film, which is reason enough to see it.
I’m completely unfamiliar with Mouret’s work, but based on this one movie, I’d say he does deserve the comparisons he has received to Woody Allen and Eric Rohmer (though I’d peg Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in Paris (2007) as even closer to Allen). The approach and structure is very like Allen—especially the bulk of the tale being a story told by one of the characters (think Broadway Danny Rose (1984) or Melinda and Melinda (2004)). The tone is not dissimilar either, though the characterizations are different. Allen’s characters are invariably grounded in some kind of significant profession—usually creative—that affords them a reality outside of any romance at hand.
With Mouret, the romance is all that matters. He gives us six important characters: a research chemist, a math teacher, a pharmacist, a woman who sells fabrics, an airline stewardess and a deliveryman. Of the six, the only one we know anything about, as concerns his interests, is the pharmacist, who’s keen on Schubert, but that’s more plot device than characterization. Mouret’s own interest isn’t the characters themselves, but their interactions in the name of love. That’s a notable difference.
The setup involves Gabriel (Michaël Cohen) giving a woman, Emilie (Julie Gayet), a lift in his van. They end up spending the evening together—one that by rights ought to end with a kiss, even though both of them are involved with other people. But an “innocent kiss?” That’s the crux of the matter—whether or not there is any such thing. Emilie expounds on this through a story about two people—Judith (Virginie Ledoyen) and Nicolas (Emmanuel Mouret)—and the consequences of what happened when they gave in to their own desires.
It turns out that though Judith and Nicolas have been best friends for ages, they’ve never been lovers, and Judith is married to Claudio (Stefano Accorsi). This changes, however, when Nicolas, feeling the need for physical affection, talks her into providing it, since they’re such close friends and it will “mean nothing.” Predictably, it means a lot more than nothing, though the pair spends a lot of time denying it—and repeating the experience to prove to themselves that they’re not in love. And when they can deny it no longer, they realize they can do nothing about it without hurting both Claudio and the girl, Caline (Frédérique Bel), with whom Nicolas has taken up. The solution to their problems is one that could only exist within the confines of French farce, but since this is a French farce, it works just fine.
Light and breezy, Shall We Kiss? isn’t perfect. First of all, Mouret isn’t quite as personable as he obviously thinks he is. As a result, it’s easy to get more wrapped up in the framing story than in the flashback, which unbalances the film. Moreover, despite a certain visual elegance, Mouret is on shaky footing with his all-classical music track—mostly Tchaikovsky, but with some Mozart and Schubert thrown in. It’s occasionally effective—especially toward the end—but more often it’s distractingly inapt, as if someone just hit some random tracks on a recording. Still, charm and wit outweigh the missteps by a significant margin, and the film wins out in the end. Not rated, but contains adult themes and some nudity.