A chance encounter in Nantes leads to a romantic dinner between Émilie (Julie Gayet) and Gabriel (Michaël Cohen). Both are in relationships but are drawn to each other and aware that they will most likely never see each other again. So what do they have to lose from indulging in just one kiss before parting? A lot apparently, as Émilie explains by way of telling Gabriel a long story about a pair of platonic best friends. The pair are Judith, played by Virginie Ledoyen (A Pain in the Ass, 8 Women) and Nicolas, played by Emmanuel Mouret who also wrote and directed Shall We Kiss? (Un baiser s’il vous plaît). Due to a prolonged bout of celibacy Nicolas asks Judith to sleep with him, as a no-strings-attached act of friendship, but the results have monumental effects on their lives and the lives of the people around them.
Suggesting that Shall We Kiss? may be inspired by Woody Allen’s films would be a huge understatement as the entire film seems to be a direct homage to Allen’s style of filmmaking and his preoccupations with love, sex and desire. Even the plain opening titles, with white letters on a black background, mimic the way Allen begins his films. Shall We Kiss? has the same simple camerawork, slightly stylised dialogue and story-within-a-story narrative structure. All the characters speak plainly and openly about their feelings, everybody is very analytical about the nature of love and characters react to issues of infidelity and heartbreak in an oh-so-civilised way. For the first half of the film this all works really well and Judith and Nicolas’s awkward over-the-top politeness towards each other when acting on their decision to have sex is very funny. But while Shall We Kiss? maintains this analytical and slightly distanced tone, it reaches a plateau about halfway through and interest in the characters slips away.
Given the tradition of exploring issues of infidelity in French cinema, Shall We Kiss? is a remarkably moralistic tale about the dangers of giving in to even the smallest hint of desire. Like a lesser Allen film, it is pleasant and entertaining enough but not essential viewing.