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I Don't Kiss Review

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A French youth leaves his small town and heads for Paris. The combination of his principles, the harsh realities of modern city living and general circumstance play a part in his spiral downwards into poverty and street living.

★★★★

A stark sign of the times, I Don't Kiss - or J'Embrasse Pas to give it it's original title - is a tale of a modern living that rings seedily true. Pierre (Blanc), an attractive Pyrennean Dick Whittington, escapes his village background by leaving for the bright lights of Paris. He lands a job in a hospital kitchen and a couple of friends in his distant aunt (Vincent) and fellow kitchen worker Said (Zam). Things, however, go wrong for the optimistic 19-year-old: his refusal to accept charity of any form allied to his lack of straightforward city knowledge (he doesn't get the dole when he loses his job because he says he didn't work very hard) means he ends up on the streets. Things are further complicated by his various emotional entanglements: with his aunt, with a rich older man (Noiret), with a young prostitute (Beart) - Pierre lives through this all with an increasing cynicism and street-awareness.

It's an absorbing tale, unsentimental and brutally true to life, which builds to seemingly inescapable violence in the last half-hour. It hasn't the cautionary bleakness of a Last Exit To Brooklyn, for instance - more a sort of modern matter-of-factness that allows room for romance and good times as much as desolation.

Blanc and Beart (unrecognisable from her fey days as Manon De Sources) give fine, subtle performances: indeed, all the acting is faultless. The characters and dialogue are similarly real, though it grates as ever to see yet another central female-as-victim. And for such an assured film, the end comes surprisingly awkwardly, leaving a frustrated feeling of continued involvement with each person's story. Still, I Don't Kiss is city life as it really is: complicated, unfulfilling, fast-moving, tough. An honest and engaging film.

It's brutal, it's honest, and it's unflinching. The performances are faultless, it's just a pity that the ending couldn't have been a bit tidier.