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Un homme et une femme

When a kiss is not just a kiss

By Jon Davies

In Casablanca, Dooley Wilson sings 'A kiss is just a kiss'. Well not in French cinema it ain’t! The French know how to make it a whole lot more. While Hollywood through its Hayes code was still insisting that even its married couples slept in single beds and kept at least one foot on the ground when kissing, French screen stars weren't holding back. If you want a good meaningful snog, French cinema will not disappoint.

Quai des Brumes
J. Gabin and M. Morgan in Quai des Brumes

Why do I say this? Let me convince you. While it would be absurd to believe that French people have any special kissing talent that other nations are missing, there has always been a frankness in French cinema that accepts that people who fall in love don't wait for a marriage certificate to do something about it. I am thinking in particular of actors like Jean Gabin who would always get the girl but get her into bed as well! While Humphrey Bogart was flirting with Lauren Bacall through a smoky haze in Have and Have Not (1944), Gabin was getting the matches out for a post coital cig with Michèle Morgan in Le Quai des Brumes (1938 - Port of Shadows). French filmmakers took an altogether more realistic view of what happens in life and the films were better and popular for it. This is what some call 'The Oo La La' factor. So where can we find the best examples of the perfect kiss?

I'd have to start with Un Homme et une Femme. At the climax of Claude Lelouche’s 1966 tear-jerker we are wondering whether Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant will ever get it together. She's left him and is on a train – but he chases her through the snow in his racing car, as you do. The train draws in, he leaps from his car (with no comprehension of parking restrictions), runs up the stairs into the station and along the platform where their eyes meet and Lelouche's camera circles them in a kiss that will make the hairs stand up on your neck.

Or how about the first kiss between Audrey Tautou and Matthieu Kassovitz in Amélie? She has spent an hour and a half of the film fantasizing about him and when at last she has him in her grasp they spend over a minute offering each other the lightest of butterfly kisses. So erotic, and when they eventually kiss in a more lustful way the director, Jeunet puts them behind a curtain in silhouette! So tasteful as well! 

La Vie d'Adèle
La Vie d'Adèle

Kissing is often about demonstrating tension in relationships and for my third nomination I’d like to choose La Vie d’Adèle known here as Blue is the Warmest Colour. Kechiche’s coming of age romance tells the story of two women, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, falling in love. Their kisses tell the whole story. From friendly pecks in the street that get longer and longer  as the relationship develops, through ones that linger just too long to mean mere friendship, to the first full-on passionate kiss that opens the floodgates to their love. Wonderful stuff.


So there are three of my favourites, which ones do you remember?



Jon Davies is the tutor of French Cinema at Morley College, who runs classes in several venues around London (more info here). From 12 April to 5 July, Jon Davies invites you to discover French cinema in 12 easy lessons, held at The Cinema Museum. 


11/04/2016 - arnottdavies said :

Excellent suggestion on Visiteurs - the kiss that lasts forever! As to the unrequited love in Carnet de Bal a quite wonderful piece of human drama. Perhaps I should do another piece on 'The Romances that passed in the Night'? Thanks for your contribution.

10/04/2016 - writers_reign said :

On the other hand sometimes less really IS more. Marie Bell spends virtually the entire length ofJulian Duvivier's exquisite Un Carnet de bal longing to be kissed by one of the dance partners who signed her dance card at the very first Ball she attended as an eighteen-year-old; she does indeed track each one down but for various reasons fails to find the romance she is seeking as a newly widowed young woman. So much more emotive than half a dozen snogs with the cream of French actors in 1937.
If we DO need an erotic image to warm the long winter evenings how about the lovers, petrified by devil Jules Berry in the last scene lof Les Visiteurs du soir, whose hearts continue to beat through eternity. Merci, Jacques Prevert.


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