Kisses is something like a rough-edged fairy tale, involving - though not ideally suited for - children. It ably toes the line between displaying the endless sense of adventure that goes with being a child and reminding the viewer how threatening the world can often be when alone at a very young age. The two protagonists are just kids who've run away from their troubled homes for what ends up as a single night in the city. Their adventure finds them on shopping trips and in the midst of dangerous encounters with equal discovery. Dublin has probably never felt so vast on film, and it's rarely seemed this genuinely hopeless. The instances when the children are met with kindness also tend to include some underlying sense of desperation or struggle, where the generous souls are themselves stuck in the margins.
Lance Daly's film goes out of its way, however, to avoid taking on a dour tone. It may begin (and end) in black and white with next-door neighbors Dylan (Shane Curry) and Kylie (Kelly O'Neill) suffering their respective growing pains, but the stronger emphasis seems to be on the far more colorful escape to the city and its accompanying feeling of wonder. These opening scenes feel necessary only as a way to establish why Dylan and Kylie are so determined to leave and not return. A violent incident that began between Dylan's parents and soon involved the young boy after he tried to come to his mother's aid becomes the catalyst for his and Kylie's running away. He figures that his brother Barry, who ran away from home two years ago, might help them if they can locate him in Dublin. Kylie's just as committed to leaving home as Dylan. General mistreatment from her siblings and more serious violations by an uncle have convinced her that anything would be better than staying there.
The journey starts rather modestly. They encounter a worker, a Spanish-accented foreigner, who's traveling down the water with a dredger. He's reluctant to help but soon finds himself with little choice and takes the two all the way to the city. Their time there is nothing if not eventful. Daly gradually adds faded colors to the formerly monochromatic palette as the children leave behind the troubles of their home lives. By the time Dylan and Kylie arrive in Dublin, the film suddenly appears drenched in a kaleidoscopic blur of colors.. They shop for coats and candy and shoes with wheels, all shown through montage accompanied by upbeat music. Throughout the film, this becomes a motif of sorts, where we see the children wordlessly interacting as a catchy piece of the GoBlimpsGo score plays. This alone transforms the film into a Wong Kar-wai-esque collage of images molded next to music that guides the viewer into a feeling a very specific way about what is being seen. Unfortunately, it doesn't always come across as genuine or consistent here.
The problem with essentially telling the audience what to think about images via music is that it isn't always the correct emotion that's being instructed. Who decides what emotion is correct at any given point? The viewer, of course. It should be the viewer's choice as to whether the music used in a scene is appropriate to the mood of the film as a whole. You can't really argue in good faith that just any song or piece can fit regardless of context. In this instance, Daly often uses musical accompaniments that seem to assure the viewer that pre-teens running around a large city by themselves, without any sort of viable plan in either the long term or the short term, is a cause for celebration and joy. This in itself isn't an impossible proposition, but the trouble is that the film never bothers to really support those scenes elsewhere in the picture. Outside of these montages, Dublin is shown to be harsh and dangerous. The eventual encounter with the character identified in the credits as the Sack Man is downright terrifying, and perhaps too easily resolved. Even the magical instances like the meeting with "Bob Dylan" is lined with falsity.
Still, when the picture works, which is often enough, it's downright charming. The central theme of the title acts of affection having the power to either give or take something of importance from a person becomes sweet rather than trite. Childlike enthusiasm and the feeling that these kids have been given a temporary reprieve from domestic hell register strongly. Most importantly, the dynamic between Dylan and Kylie rings true as constantly involving new discoveries and experiences. And, coupled with that, the performances from the two young actors are never less than impressive. It's not that Kisses falls short as an enjoyable, accomplished film. The Irish movie uses its strengths quite well. The primary complaint from my perspective mostly centers around the choice to guide and reassure viewers through the use of music and montage.
One final note - keep watching past the credits for a bookend to the opening scene of the film.
This region-free DVD has been released by Oscilloscope Laboratories in the U.S. It's in the NTSC format. The disc is dual-layered. Oscilloscope's usual cardboard-only packaging includes an outer box and a hefty four-tiered foldout where the disc slides down into an opening.
The 2.35:1 image is presented in anamorphic widescreen. Early scenes in black and white look reasonably well. The gradual shift to color, which still uses a somewhat muted or faded effect until giving way to the blurry and loud hues of the city, is rendered fine in this progressive transfer. No instances of excessive digital manipulation were detected. Grain and some noise remain, with the image overall favoring a less sharply detailed look. This is particularly apparent in the many night scenes, which exhibit a thick texture of grain. This is most likely a result of the filming process and an intentional (or practical) choice rather than an issue with the transfer. On the whole the movie has been brought to DVD cleanly and without issue.
Listeners have the option to choose between a two-channel stereo track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 offering. The latter is only slightly stronger and more full, with a little more emphasis on the music in the film. Dialogue can be a touch maddening to make out. This is partially due to having city noises remain on the soundtrack but more often a result of having young actors speaking heavily accented English that's also filled with slang. Subtitles will be a must for many viewers.
The situation with the subtitles is an interesting one. It's possible to watch the film entirely without subtitles. The default option seems to be an English language subtitle track that only includes instances when the characters' Irish accents are difficult to make out to, presumably, American listeners. Most of the dialogue is thus subtitled, but not all of it. That makes for a strange watch, and one that must be particularly frustrating for those who are hearing impaired since there isn't a separate subtitle option where all of the dialogue can be read. There's also a second subtitle track, this one covering the commentary by actors Shane Curry and Kelly O'Neill. The font used for that one is yellow in color while the main track's subtitles are white.
The trio of supplements focus heavily on the film's young leads. An audio commentary billed as being "with the candy-chomping, cheeky stars, Kelly O'Neill and Shane Curry" is really something else. The two are just snottily precocious enough to listen to even when they are saying things like questioning why a DVD needs a commentary or constantly insulting one another with the aid of a barrage of slang and expletives (the mouths on these kids!). Don't look for insight into the film or a whole lot about the filmmaking process, but you might still find yourself entertained in spite of it all.
Strong language warnings precede both the "Bawdy outtakes with the cast and crew" (4:07) and "Making Kisses - a behind the Scenes look" (14:11). The latter is a more structured piece with audition footage and various visits to the set. Again, the pair of kids dominate and greatly liven up the proceedings.
Trailers for a few Oscilloscope releases, including Kisses (1:47), are also on the disc. The other previews are for Treeless Mountain, The Law, and The Maid.