Following the utterly charming “Change of Address,” Emmanuel Mouret continues his winning streak with “Shall We Kiss?” another Woody Allen-meets-Eric Rohmer romantic comedy in which the young writer-director again plays the doofus lead. Less fizzy and more philosophical than “Address,” but stillenjoyable in its wry observation of Eros’ hits and misses, this is upscale French entertainment at its best, with offshore arthouse sales a given. If not for fests’ aversion to comedies in competition, Mouret would already be better known than he is.
Pic starts and ends in Nantes, where, in a typically offhand first scene, Gabriel (Michael Cohen) gives a lift to Emilie (Julie Gayet), who’s down from Paris on business. As the two speak in the car, an attraction forms — despite the fact each has a partner — and they end up having a romantic dinner.
However, when it comes to goodnights, Emilie refuses to give Gabriel a farewell kiss. Pourquoi? Because a single kiss can change your life, she says, however innocently intended. And to prove her point, she tells Gabriel a story, set in Paris, that takes up the rest of the film, with occasional cuts back to Emilie and Gabriel. Underlying the whole film is the final teaser of whether Emilie will agree to a farewell kiss after all.
Emilie’s yarn — which, she stresses is not her own in disguise — centers on longtime best friends Nicolas Gimas (Mouret), a teacher, and Judith (Virginie Ledoyen), a lab researcher married to a rich pharmacist, Claudio (Stefano Accorsi). Each regularly confides in the other, and Nicolas confesses he lacks “physical affection” in his relationships with women.
Judith suggests seeing a hooker about the problem, and Nicolas confesses he already saw one (Marie Madinier) earlier in the day; but, as she wouldn’t allow kissing, it was to no effect. Embarrassed, Nicolas asks if Judith herself would help him out; out of friendship, she agrees to give it the old college try.
Beautifully played by Ledoyen and Mouret, this section — in which they politely remove their clothes to make even more polite love — is a small comedy-of-manners classic. In line with the whole pic, it gains much from the contrast between Mouret’s typically unadorned direction (simple medium shots and closeups, from fixed positions) and the use of classical bon-bons on the soundtrack (Tchaikovsky ballets, and lots of Schubert chamber music).
Ensuing complications have a quietly loony inevitability typical of Mouret’s films (going back to his first, “Laissons Lucie faire!”), though often spiced with the unexpected. And throughout, there’s the consistent joy of well-modulated dialogue as the pic’s driving force.
As a calmer, less neurotic version of Woody Allen, Mouret himself makes a charming protag, and is generous in giving his co-stars screen time. Dressed down in conservative clothes, Ledoyen plays against type, and makes a neat contrast to Frederique Bal as Nicolas’ slightly airheaded girlfriend, Caline. Madinier is good in a brief role as the part-time hooker who refuses to kiss.
Tech package, by the same team as “Address,” is neat and simple.