Euro co-workers at a high-end eatery in Switzerland let their feelings slowly come to a boil in “Stories for Friends Who Kiss,” a Europudding romantic comedy posing as a swish creme brulee. Helming debut of Spanish editor David Pinillos (“Gordos”) is a good-looking and at times refreshingly realistic confection that still lacks the secret ingredient needed to give it that extra zing. Nonetheless, pic should be able to convince distaff auds and their dates to fork over some dough in continental Europe, though it might be too commercial to be sold as a Euro arthouse item Stateside.
Handsome chef-in-training Dani (Unax Ugalde) has come to picturesque Zurich to join the team of a gourmet restaurant owned by stern perfectionist Thomas (Herbert Knaup), a star chef. The jovial Italian sous chef, Hugo (GiulioBerruti), and sprightly German sommelier, Hanna (Nora Tschirner), quickly take their attractive new Spanish colleague, who’s also closing in on 30, under their wing. The Italo-German duo once had a fling, and have since remained friends.
But rather than making Dani the missing ingredient of a tasty threesome that reunites the ex-lovers, Pinillos and co-writers Paco Cabezas and Juan Carlos Rubio opt for a more complicated obstacle course: Dani and Hanna develop feelings for each other after one silly kiss, even though Hanna is already in a very demanding relationship with someone else, and Dani has a steady g.f. (Xenia Tostado) in Bilbao who wants to move to Zurich.
Though not without formulaic romantic-comedy elements, Pinillos spices up his directorial debut with flashes of expertly observed character behavior that often hew closer to real life than to fairy-tale romance. With a couple of unexpected narrative twists — notably a very brave one late in the game — auds will feel like there’s quite a lot here they haven’t seen before. But the helmer never quite seems in control of the film’s tone, which veers from glossy soap opera to character-driven moments to romantic fluff.
Most of the dialogue is in lightly accented English, the working language of the internationally staffed restaurant, and pic is one of the few Euro co-productions in which the choice feels natural. Ugalde (“Savage Grace”) and Tschirner (“Rabbit Without Ears”) acquit themselves admirably in both English and their native tongues, and display a playful chemistry that will make audiences root for them. Though newcomer Berruti has an affable presence, he seems less at ease, often using constructions in English that seem too advanced for his stilted command of the language. Veteran actor Knaup, in a small role, counterbalances the flying hormones of the trio with some much-needed adult gravitas.
Lenser Aitor Mantxola deftly integrates the film’s scenic locations — not only Zurich but also Munich and Bilbao — without turning them into tourism-board ads, and as could be expected of a pic helmed by a former editor, the film is sharply cut together. Other craft contributions are solid.
Working title was “Bon Appetit.”