This is a delicate and naïve piece of French confection – part love story, part morality tale, and part bedroom farce – all very much in the style of writer-director-actor Emmanuel Mouret – a kind of comatose Woody Allen character, who had considerable international success with Change of Address in 2006.
Mouret sets up a beautiful story within a story, opening the film with two strangers meeting on a street. Emilie (Julie Gayet) needs a lift. Gabreil (Michael Cohen) has a car. There’s an obvious attraction and it leads slowly and inevitably to a candle-lit dinner. Then there’s that moment in the car at the end of the evening when he drops her at the hotel. A kiss is in the air, but Emilie is reluctant until she relates a story of why a kiss is never a kiss. With her story in play we meet Mouret as the ultra-deadpan Nicolas, a teacher in need of physical affection – not sex but something more significant. He turns to best friend Judith (Virginie Ledoyen) for advice about his condition and after a great deal of discussion, she agrees to help him out. It is their kiss and its consequences that drives the core story of the film.
Mouret isn’t quite sure whether this is to be comedy or tragedy or romance, and teases us with each form, without ever satisfying with any. Some may enjoy the first half with its dry and often very funny humour. Others may warm to the richer and more serious territory of the film when it finally returns to Emilie and Gabriel and the resolution of their evening together. Visually, Mouret is as calm and emotionally sparing as with his performances. There are plenty of static scenes, loaded with awkward dialogue and shot with few camera moves, long takes framing two actors flat on, and little editing – giving a theatrical feel to the world. It’s never cinematic – with a mannered and controlled emphasis on the spoken word. But it’s also a deceptively enchanting world where we are always waiting to find out where the tale is leading – for both couples.
Ledoyen brilliantly handles the difficult task of playing against Mouret’s expressionless and emotionless performance, and both Gayet and Cohen smolder appropriately.