If you turned the sound off for “Shall We Kiss?” and otherwise removed all cultural references, you’d still know the country of origin. This movie is as French as Freedom Fries.
People in this film meet, flirt, hesitate before acting, and occasionally sleep together. And through it all, they keep talking.
It’s essentially one long story within another framing story, although there are occasionally smaller stories within that. We begin on the streets of Nantes, where two strangers decide to share a dinner together.
Gabriel (Michael Cohen) would like to get closer to Emilie (Julie Gayet), but she’s reluctant to take it any further. She tells him a story about friends of hers, which will presumably illuminate the situation she’s in now.
This friend, a married woman named Judith (Virginie Ledoyen, late of “The Valet”), enjoys a lifelong platonic friendship with Nicolas (Emmanuel Mouret, the film’s writer-director). But suddenly he’s having a crisis.
Stricken with an inability to feel intimacy, Nicolas comes to Judith asking for help. If they become intimate — purely on an objective, nonromantic basis, of course — it might help his situation.
No points for guessing this decision is going to create a whole new set of problems. The pleasure of “Shall We Kiss?” comes from watching those problems unwind, and in trying to guess how they might affect Emilie and Gabriel in their framing story.
None of this has the slightest weight, but in an odd way that’s part of the appeal of the movie. The encounter between Emilie and Gabriel lasts for a single evening and consists mostly of an absorbing conversation.
The movie plays as though it were somebody’s fond memory of a night that really didn’t go anywhere, but made an impression anyway.
Director Mouret’s style is quiet and calm, and the Judith- Nicolas story seems to take place almost entirely in different shades of beige. This makes an amusing counterpoint to the foolish things his characters are doing.
This is the first of Mouret’s comedies to get a decent U.S. release, but in France he has something of a reputation as a Woody Allen type, a throwback to comedians of the past. The pleasant but mild “Shall We Kiss?” suggests he’s still a distance away from “Annie Hall.”