Human foibles play in any language
The French may be a funny race, to paraphrase a Preston Sturges film title, but a lot of times that humour—or any in another language—doesn’t translate well from country to country. Such is not the case with the work of Emmanuel Mouret. He’s an actor, director and writer who has crafted a career of 10 films to date since 1998 that explore the vicissitudes of love and relationships. Most often compared to fellow countryman Eric Rohmer (sans much of the underlying moral gravitas) and, inevitably, Woody Allen (without the distinctive New York accent—or prolific output, for that matter), Mouret’s work is fundamentally low-key comedy surrounding the getting, care, feeding and loss of love and intimacy.
You must remember this…
In the 2007 romantic comedy Shall We Kiss?, events revolve around the meaning of the titular pash, often the opening gambit in the quest for love—or at least sex. After she’s wined and dined by a total stranger during a business trip to Nantes, Parisian fabric designer Emilie (Julie Gayet) refuses his overtures and instead tells him the story of her lab worker friend Judith (Virginie Ledoyen). When Judith conspires with schoolteacher Nicolas (Mouret) to set her own partner (Steffano Accorsi) up with Nicolas’ ex Caline (Frederique Bel), the two discover the more they attempt to quantify and quash their l’amour fou, the more variables of the heart spring up to bring them together. The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.
Mope your way to bed
As an actor, Mouret has one of those faces blessed with the ability to appear either plain or attractive, often in the same shot (think a male version of our own national treasure Toni Collette). Also as an actor, he’s fully aware of what that camera chemistry lets him get away with. Thus, much of the film plays at an overtly droll pace that depends on his exquisite comic timing for effect. Plus, as with Woody Allen, men can relate to an average looking guy who always gets the dames. “When you least expect it,” someone says here, “you fall in love.” If that isn’t a universal sentiment, nothing is.
Shake things up a bit
Initially, you’d be forgiven for thinking the film was about Emilie and her adventures with the new-found handsome stranger. Mouret understands two things about structure and pace: first, the film’s wisp of an idea needs to be fleshed out to feature-length running time; and second, the off-balance effect of the opening framing device serves to freshen up a genre that can be overly predictable when not handled properly.
The Windsor knot
For his newest film, Caprice, which premiered in 2015, Mouret explicitly embraces his inner Woody Allen with his choice of font for the poster, which you can see here. Remind you of anybody else’s work? Imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery.
Watch 'Shall We Kiss?' at SBS On Demand