Monday, June 08, 2009

Shall We Kiss?

It takes a little while to get going, but once it gets its farcical legs under it, it dives in head first with an affinity for the absurd that tops even the wackiest of the Coen brothers pictures. As the story progresses, though, things get a little bit unwieldy as the story buckles a little bit under the weight of its several heavy layers.

I smelled trouble from the beginning, because the story is told in a frame, which can be very effective when done well, but it’s hard to pull off. Gabriel runs into Émilie on the street, and she asks if he can help her in the right direction to catch a cab. At first he says he can’t help her, but then he doubles back and offers to take her wherever she needs to go. Then they spend a nice evening together and he wants to kiss her goodnight, but she stops him because she is with someone and doesn’t want to give in to the temptation of an illicit kiss with an interesting new person because she knows a story of two people who experienced something similar, with dramatic ramifications.

She frames the story of Nicolas and Judith, two best friends (each romantically linked to someone else) who inevitably develop feelings for each other without at first knowing it. It is then revealed that Nicolas needs to be able to kiss a woman first in order for the standard progression of physical intimacy to progress - and he’s been having trouble getting over this hurdle lately. It’s not quite the same as impotence, but it’s close - a trouble with subjective potency rather than objective potency. He convinces Judith to help him out, and even though they are both with other people, they conduct this little experiment by rationalizing it as something that friends would do for one another.

Subconsciously, of course, they’re giving in to the feelings that they have for each other but which they have never consciously acknowledged. Their kiss solves Nicolas’ problem, but creates a new one - namely that, having finally given in to each other, they are no longer satisfied with their original partners. What follows is an increasingly absurd series of encounters wherein they try, almost clinically, to purge themselves of these new feelings by indulging in them.

At first, I was a little bit put off by the way the camera just seemed to sit there and watch Nicolas and Judith talking to each other and trying to talk their way to a solution to their problem, because the dialogue seemed a little shaky and all of the white in the background lent an unnatural brightness to conversations that were just sort of...dull; but then I reminded myself that it was just this sort of hands-off approach that went a long way toward making Wendy and Lucy the excellent picture that it was - so I tried to sit back and just let the thing go and let myself be taken away by it.

Not that I was going to walk out or anything - but sometimes a thing can start to get to you and just not let up, and it can ruin the movie for you; sometimes this is external, like the woman in the row behind you who makes a worried sort of sound - oh no! - every time something happens that will get one of the characters in trouble (for those who have seen the film, the scene where Claudio goes back for his scarf is a prime example); and sometimes it’s internal, to do with the film itself, which is what all of that campy dialogue started to do for me at the outset. I also reminded myself that the original dialogue was written in French, and that it was entirely possible that the sub-titles just weren’t a good translation. French is the only language I know well enough to be able to tell (sometimes) when the English sub-titles don’t exactly say what the words spoken in French do.

And I really did let it go, and the machinations became so absurd that I found myself laughing - and found that I was often the only one in the theatre who was chuckling; and it wasn’t just that what was happening - let’s do it, but try not to make it good, so that way we won’t want to do it again; okay, now this time since that first thing didn’t work, let’s really try to make it the very best ever, so that there won’t be any need to ever do it again - was absurd. It was also that Nicolas and Judith seemed completely oblivious to just how absurd were their actions. They played it like their eyes were completely closed to the possibility that what they really needed was to be together, and they put so much effort into not seeing that one particular point that the effect became that of someone with OCD dancing over every tiny little crack in the sidewalk (think Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets).

Eventually, they come to the realization that what they need to do is break things off with their other people and make a go of it together; and the story begins to buckle here when they cook up a scheme to get Judith’s boyfriend to leave her, but an odd thing happens after the story starts to buckle under its own weight - they throw a couple of curve balls at us, one each involving Gabriel and Émilie, the characters from the frame.

And now I’m sitting here trying to decide if I should reveal the ending or not, and part of the reason for my indecision is that revealing the ending is the only way I can really describe what an impressive job they do with the frame, which is something that I have always thought is very hard to do well. The more I think about it, though, the more I think that it’s not just done well here; it might actually have been done perfectly, or at least it’s as good a use of the technique as I have ever seen.

I don’t think I can do it. I’ve scrapped three different attempts at it now, and I just don’t see a way to describe what they do with the frame in a way that doesn’t reveal the ending. About the best I can do is tell you that the frame actually winds up becoming a circle - or, probably more accurately, a Möbius strip. The last image you see on screen isn’t quite haunting - which might be more than the makers of a French farce want to achieve - but it’s awfully close. And awfully good, too.

Next: Gia, or the Mayor goes to see Star Trek

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