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Monday, October 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 51.0° F  Overcast
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Very French.
Very French.

Quintessentially French in its preoccupation with the vagaries of l'amour, Shall We Kiss? is painfully dunderheaded about the proclivities of the human heart.

Writer-director Emmanuel Mouret's characters are all well-educated and well-intentioned members of the bourgeoisie who, at first glance, seem reminiscent of Eric Rohmer's eternal truth seekers. The actions of Mouret's characters are scored to the cultured strains of Tchaikovsky and Schubert, and their wardrobes are all color-schemed in tasteful shades of beige. Much like their attire, these characters lack individual color; unlike Rohmer's characters, they seek answers to questions that most adults long ago figured out.

Shall We Kiss? is structured as a story within a story. It begins as Gabriel (Michaël Cohen) meets Émilie (Julie Gayet) when she stops him in the street to ask for directions. A lift to her destination leads to a charming dinner and a nightcap, but when Gabriel leans in for a goodnight kiss (and who knows what more?), Émilie is reluctant to reciprocate.

Though each one has a partner waiting back home, Émilie's hesitancy is not grounded in fears of infidelity as much as it is in the implications of the kiss and the emotional floodgates it might open. She tells Gabriel a story about what happened to some people she knows.

The rest of Shall We Kiss? primarily focuses on the story of Judith (Virginie Ledoyen) and Nicolas (Mouret), although the film cuts back from time to time to Gabriel and Émilie unspooling the tale in her hotel room. Friends since their school days, Judith and Nicolas enjoy a close relationship, even though Judith has since married Claudio (Stefano Accorsi). However, after a long-term relationship ends, Nicolas tells Judith of his aching need for human contact. His hookup with a prostitute offered him no relief, because she wouldn't allow him to kiss her.

He wonders if Judith would be willing to satisfy his hunger. Good friend that she is, Judith consents, and their first awkward coupling leads to a second - just to quiet the mystery. From there, it's downhill for the pair as their liaison begins to govern their emotions and leads them into acts of secrecy and deception (including the engineering of a plot twist).

What's amazing about these two, however, is that they are unable to foresee the almost inevitable twist that sex and kissing would cause to their emotional relationships. Their logical experiment reveals a naveté that seems unbelievable for such otherwise intelligent characters. Shall We Kiss? is not without charms, but the characters' quandary is about as monochromatic as the clothes they wear.

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