In Emmanuel Mouret's quietly observant Un baiser s'il vous plaît / Shall We Kiss? (literally, “A Kiss, If You Please”), which opens today in Los Angeles, a young, good-looking couple, Émilie and Gabriel (Julie Gayet and Michaël Cohen), meet accidentally and are just about ready to go for some physical intimacy when Judith decides to tell Gabriel a story. See, she's in a relationship. But then again, so is he.
Well, the story in question is about another young, good-looking couple, Judith and Nicolas (Virginie Ledoyen, Mouret, top photo) who broke the barriers of social conventions and personal trust – Judith was married – by kissing one another. But it was all for a good cause. See, the young man was having trouble finding real intimacy with another woman – sex workers didn't want to kiss him; he and his ditsy girlfriend (Frédérique Bel) were incompatible – so Judith, as his best friend, decides to help out poor Nicolas by providing kisses while they try out sex.
That's what friends are for, right? Of course! Well, no. Maybe. After all, there are consequences to even the most generous of friendly acts. Especially if the act in question involves a (great) kiss. According to Mouret, that's when our emotional barriers – and everything else along with them – come crashing down.
At times funny, at times moving (the last scene is particularly haunting), and throughout it all thoughtful, sensitive, and beautifully acted (as the betrayed husband, Stefano Accorsi is superb), Shall We Kiss? is one the most enriching cinematic experiences I've had so far this year. Woody Allen, in fact, should check this one out; he'll hopefully remember some of what he's forgotten in most of his recent films.
Writer-director Emmanuel Mouret has kindly agreed to answer a few questions (via e-mail, in French, translated into English by yours truly) for Alt Film Guide. See below.
What was your inspiration for Shall We Kiss?
Regarding the storyline, the inspiration came more from my own private life than from any particular film. But my life is similar to many other lives and the film portrays a situation that is actually quite common – and at the same time quite extraordinary for those who have experienced it.
Why the choice of having the main story – that of Nicolas and Judith – be presented as a sort of flashback?
Because it corresponds to the myriad thoughts that come to mind when we're sexually tempted. We question ourselves as we recall similar situations to ours and their consequences. In those moments, we remember movies, novels, and stories in which the characters succumb to temptation and come out either well or poorly.
Also, I was equally interested in the irony in that a character tells a story to dissuade someone from kissing her, but the time it takes her to tell the story actually makes the two of them closer while intensifying their desire.
As the film's actor/director/screenwriter, what was it like working with Virginie Ledoyen (above, with Mouret and Frédérique Bel)?
Very friendly. Virginie is an actress who is very much a “cinephile”; she's interested in film and not just in her own role. Everything moved along very smoothly and serenely.
You've made other films as both actor and director. In your opinion, what is the most difficult thing for an actor-director?
To watch oneself during the editing process.
Variety has said that Shall We Kiss? is a mix of Woody Allen and Eric Rohmer. Do you agree? Have there been other directors or films that have inspired your work?
I have a lot of admiration for both filmmakers, so I'm very flattered. But whether the film is a mix of those two influences, I wouldn't be able to tell and it would have been accidental.
There were times when Shall We Kiss? reminded me of When Harry Met Sally. Judith was quite ready to help Nicolas, even though she was married to someone else. Would you say that Shall We Kiss? says something about platonic friendships (or the impossibility of such friendships) between heterosexual men and women?
[In Shall We Kiss?] there is mostly what I really like in movies, those situations that makes us dream or imagine things. And showing your best female friend having sex with you just to help you out, I find that funny and delicious. I'd love to promote that!
Could you say something about your choice of music – Mozart, Schubert, etc. – in Shall We Kiss?
There's mostly lots of Schubert and Tchaikovsky. Initially, we were going to have an original score and we used those compositions throughout the editing phase to helps us move on with the process (and because we really loved them). So, when we showed the film to the composer, he told us that there was nothing he could do, that the film was just fine like that!
Your next film is called “Fais moi plaisir” (“Give Me Pleasure”). Are you going to continue to explore the difficulties involving desire, emotions, and social roles?
Yes. I believe that's an obsession. Sensual desire is very constrained by social norms because it's basically impulsive, selfish, unstable, and fickle, whereas society needs order, security and organization. It's an issue that comes up incessantly in our lives: how to experience my desires and be a good person?
And already answering the next question, I'd say that this film is a morality tale in the sense that the characters are torn by those two [conflicting] wishes and they ask themselves questions of morality. But at the same time, the film refrains from taking a moral stance and we see each character negotiate with their conscience however they can.
And finally, do you believe that there are kisses – or any type of physical intimacy – without emotional consequences? And would you say that Shall We Kiss? is a “moral tale” – or even a “moralistic tale”? (See previous answer.)
Are there kisses without consequences? I don't know. But are there also sometimes consequences when one refrains from kissing or being kissed? That's a starting point for another film!