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Originally published April 23, 2009 at 3:00 PM | Page modified April 23, 2009 at 3:04 PM

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Movie review

"Kiss" smacks of humor and insight

"Shall We Kiss?" is a delightful and deeply satisfying confection that exceeds the standard of contemporary French romantic comedy. It involves two couples (plus a couple more), who ponder a confounding question: Is a kiss really just a kiss?

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3.5 stars

"Shall We Kiss?," with Virginie Ledoyen, Emmanuel Mouret, Julie Gayet, Michaël Cohen, Frédérique Bel, Stefano Accorsi. Written and directed by Mouret. 96 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences. In French, with English subtitles. Several theaters.

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The enigmatic question asked by the title of this delightful and deeply satisfying French confection is by no means rhetorical. It's a real conundrum for all of the well-heeled players who yearn for human connection, sexual fulfillment and existential truth by asking each other — sometimes in so many words — shall we kiss?

The fable begins in Nantes, where Émilie (Julie Gayet) has a breathtakingly believable chance meeting with Gabriel (Michaël Cohen). The evening that spontaneously unfolds between them is a bracketing device for a movie- within-the-movie that tells the cautionary tale of Judith (Virginie Ledoyen) and Nicolas (writer/director Emmanuel Mouret). In pondering the question of whether to seal their spontaneous encounter with a kiss, Émilie relates to Gabriel the saga of her friends back in Paris, who learned the hard way that a kiss is not always just a kiss.

Judith and Nicolas have been fast friends and confidants since high school. Their honesty and apparent lack of prurient mutual interest is put to a test when Nicolas asks Judith, who is happy in her marriage, to be a sexual surrogate after his latest breakup. This setup will spark a rueful and bemused connection for anyone who has had the thought, "Sure, we can do this and still be friends."

The execution of their first entanglement is a masterpiece of comic timing and naturalistic expression. Mouret is enchanting as a befuddled and slightly more appealing Woody Allen figure (as both actor and auteur), and Ledoyen is a lovely, soulful foil for his confused needs.

Another pair of fully imagined characters in the sexual hullabaloo are Judith's devoted husband, Claudio (Stefano Accorsi), and Nicolas' sort-of girlfriend Caline (Frédérique Bel).

The clean lines of composition and the warm tones of wardrobe and mood are just a few of the design nuances that enhance the pleasurable whole of "Shall We Kiss?"

Shall they kiss? I'll never tell.

Ted Fry:

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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