Sunday, 3 July 2011

Shall We Kiss?

Lowdown: Can two people kiss one another without any consequences?
Shall We Kiss?, or Un baiser s'il vous plait by its original native French title, is one of those films I’ve heard about and filed under “seems interesting, should watch when opportunity presents itself”. Thanks to SBS opportunity did present itself last week, and while I cannot claim Shall We Kiss? is the best film ever – it’s pretty eccentric – I will claim it’s unorthodox enough to justify viewing under certain circumstances.
The keys to understanding Shall We Kiss? lie in two basic themes: (1) the story within the story and (2) When Harry Met Sally. Our journey begins when Émilie (Julie Gayet) gets out of Paris to a foreign city for work and stumbles upon the helpful local, Gabriel (Michaël Cohen). Something clicks between the two, but when Gabriel tries to initiate a kiss he receives an unconventional sort of a reply: the telling of the events that took place between acquaintances of Émilie’s, Judith and Nicolas.
Thus begins our ongoing travel through time and space as we engage in flashbacks towards these latter two, flashbacks that dominate the film overall. Judith (Virginie Ledoyen, the main familiar face in the film) and Nicolas (Emmanuel Mouret, who also directed this film) are lifelong friends, but that is where their relationship ends; Judith considers herself happily married to someone else while Nicolas is unable to find his true mate.
One day Nicolas decides on an experiment to help him overcome his issues with finding the right woman: he’ll have sex with Judith, for whom he has no romantic intentions, and that would sort him out. Always the helpful friend, Judith complies; problem is, their sex leads them to fall in love with one another, which is a bit of a problem given their personal circumstances. Hence we have ourselves a discussion on the merits of kissing and just how much weight a kiss, even a seemingly casual one, can have. Can the love of the flesh lead to the love of the spirit? The discussion applies to the two relationships discussed in the film, which – as expected – are somewhat intertwined. As mentioned, the shadow of When Harry Met Sally looms over the discussion, and there is always the unanswered question of whether Judith and Nicolas were in love even before they realized it. Or rather, does the love of the flesh reveal one's true intentions?
The discussion is interesting, but the way it is handled is what makes Shall We Kiss? feels rather strange when viewing. The film tries hard to make a name for itself through the technical means of simple shots, long and short edits, reserved camera movements and lots of classical music. It also tries to break down the act of love making into small physical acts – moving a hand there, holding a breast here – an approach that tries to demonstrate the irrationality of approaching love rationally.
The result is not the most entertaining film ever, but still a strong statement on that latter observation. Perhaps this is my biggest issue with the film: I am firmly of the opinion that anything and everything is open for rational assessment, and I do not see any contradictions between that and wilfully switching one’s rationality circuits off to fall in love and enjoy this once in a lifetime (or a mere few in a lifetime, if you’re lucky) experience. Critical as I am towards Shall We Kiss?, the mere fact it puts this issue on the discussion board earns it plenty of credit.
Notable scene:
udith and Nicolas’ first attempt at making love is a long scene where the two ask one another for permission to perform the slightest of movements. Given the nature of the movements they’re talking about the scene will be pretty memorable, but that nature also implies a somewhat disturbing feeling.
The scene had me feeling like a voyeur at a porn production. That is not the type of feeling one normally seeks when one watches a film for entertainment, but if you’re into challenging entertainment then perhaps Shall We Kiss? is right up your alley.
For what it's worth, I would just like to note that Shall We Kiss? achieves all it does achieve with hardly ever using nudity. It's interesting to note that fact given the way films are rated by their square meters of displayed genitalia rather than the impact their contents has on the viewer. Perhaps we aren't rating films the way we should?
Overall: Weird but unique. I’m going to be generous and give this one 3 out of 5 stars.

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