Ready to Rent
Shall We Kiss?
I have two favorite quotes about the French that I think sum up the agonizing neuroticisms that plague the pair of lovers in writer-director-actor Emmanuel Moret's "Shall We Kiss?" ("Un baiser s'il vous plait"). The first is by poet Paul Valery that aptly states, "Love is being stupid together"; the second, an underdog for witticism alone, by favorite son Charles DeGaulle who once noted, "How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 kinds of cheeses?" Essentially, mix a constitution of romantic impulsiveness with epic hang-ups worn like medals of honor and you have characters that may make Woody Allen's ensembles cringe. This does not mean, however, that "Shall We Kiss" is not fun, or even mean-spirited; it is, rather, a movie whose heart is thankfully not fashioned out of schadenfreude, but out of the humanist notion that for everyone in love, there is someone who has been trampled upon.
There is a trend in the last 15-or-so years to detail the lives of young, upper-middle-class characters in the throes of major existential crisis, usually caused by love (not that this is new). On this side of the Atlantic, director Noah Baumbach (whose latest "Greenberg" can be seen as the curse of someone who cannot get out of their 20s) details these souls in the midst of a purgatory of never-ending crisis that therapy can only pad. Baumbach, with movies like "The Squid and the Whale" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," infuses a type of self-loathing into his characters, which is palpable to the audience, leaving not only a bad taste at times, but also a nasty mood. On the other side, Arnaud Desplechin's "A Christmas Tale" is comparable to Baumbach's mannered tantrums, but with an even tarter cast of characters. These are people not with too much money but with possibly too much education and poise whose well-trained logic is a barrier to a deeper sense of happiness.
The characters in "Shall We Kiss" are those with such hang-ups, who think they can balance desire with decorum. The movie is a tale told by Emilie (Julie Gaynet) to Gabriel (Michael Cohen), both strangers who happen to share an evening in the same hotel while on business. Both are involved with other people, but, since they are getting along so well, Gabriel proposes an innocent kiss to end their perfect evening. Emilie, instead, invokes Scheherazade and tells Gabriel a "friend-of-a-friend" story about two people, Judith (Virginie Ledoyen) and Nicholas (director Moret), best friends involved with other people who discover that they are in love and, instead of trying to fight it, decide to give in hopes that they will purge their feelings. This, of course, turns out to be the wrong thing to do.
What is refreshing about Moret's "Shall We Kiss" is the playfulness he has in the set up of the angst. Judith and Nicholas fret and rationalize their feelings away, but with the apt composure of a chamber piece (Schubert's Piano Trio in E wisely plays over the soundtrack) so, even at their most tortured, there is a smirking resignation in their manners. What could have come off as cynical is actually very fun to watch, with the pair admonishing themselves not because they feel so, but because they know that it a piece to the drama that must be played out.