A mannered exercise in magical realism applied to small-town Russian life, “27 Missing Kisses” is an enervating third feature by Nana Djordjadze. Winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes in 1986 for “Robinsonade, or My English Grandpa” and Oscar nominated for “A Chef in Love” 10 years later, the Georgian director here throws a precocious 14-year-old babe into a sleepy community, with predictably randy but ultimately tragic results. Strenuously over-elaborated and much less amusing than it seems to think it is, this slickly produced romp will make the fest rounds and score some Euro sales on the basis of the director’s name and sexy elements, but has a negligible theatrical future in the West.
Referred to under its working title of “Summer” in the Cannes catalog and some other listings but branded only as “27 Missing Kisses” (in English) onscreen, pic is set in an unspecified time and place in the former Soviet Union. But the town where the naughty and carefree Sybill (Nino Kuchanidze) comes to spend the summer with her aunt is portrayed as one of those spots where time stands still, a run-down place where armies and regimes may come and go but things basically remain the same. It’s also a place of considerable boredom, at least until Sybill begins to shake things up.
At once, the mop-haired nymphet decides she’s in love with widower Alexander (Eugenij Sidichin, a brawnier double for William Hurt), who is 41 and the father of Mickey (Shalva Iashvili), a 14-year-old who becomes obsessed with Sybill. Latter thinks nothing of dropping her clothes to show off her considerable charms to whomever might be around, and by the end of the picture al fresco lovemaking seems to be the favorite sport in these parts, so often are naked women seen romping around the countryside.
As Alexander wisely deflects Sybill’s attention, and in any event has no shortage of women available to him, the frisky girl passes the time with the ardent Mickey. Together, they sneak in behind the screen for the big event of the summer, a showing of the French soft-core classic “Emmanuelle,” which gets the rest of the town hot and bothered. This leads to the film’s would-be comic centerpiece, in which a well-endowed gentleman, in a drunken encounter with the town floozy, gets ball bearings stuck on his engorged member and can only have them removed by a giant steel press.
This sequence merely accentuates the cloying, overdone sense of whimsy that dominates the picture. Other end of the spectrum is represented by the semi-absurdist interludes devoted to an old sea captain (French comic actor Pierre Richard) who’s got his boat propped up in the middle of the countryside and now needs only to find a body of water to put it in. Like other elements of the film, this no doubt carries some metaphorical importance re the former Soviet Union finding its way in the modern world, but that doesn’t make it any more amusing while it’s on the screen.
Despite these distractions, pic never strays far from Sybill, who manages to upset nearly everyone in town at one time or another with her provocations and unseemly behavior. As played with blithe insouciance by Kuchanidze, character has a confidence and physical assertiveness well beyond her years, and the director shamelessly plays up any and all opportunities for titillation. But as voyeuristically pleasing as this may prove to some viewers, even this element becomes tiresome after a while, as Djordjadze and her scenarist husband, Iraklij Kvirikadze, allow their film to be defined by the randomness of the “crazy” episodes rather than exercising discipline over them to bring cohesion and meaning to the picture.
Ending is genuinely tragic, if heavily foreshadowed and predictable, and its impact is undercut by the narrator’s shift of attention away from the incident itself to the fact that he received 27 fewer kisses from Sybill over the course of the summer than she promised he would.
Soundtrack is loaded with an international assortment of sexy and jaunty tunes, and production values are substantial; despite single locale, pic was shot in Germany, Georgia, Greece and Los Angeles, per end credits.