By Amanda Hess
For her short video “First Kiss,” director Tatia Pilieva asked 20 strangers to convene in a blank room, pair up with one another, then kiss for the first time in front of her camera. The result looks like real-life romance, sped up to an intoxicating pace: The kissers circle each other awkwardly at first, making fumbling small talk, sneaking looks at Pilieva, and erupting into giggles. But once they’ve locked lips, they suddenly appear intimate, sexy, even compassionate toward each other. Watching the video will warm your cold, unfeeling heart—until you get to the credits, at which point it will return to its rightfully frozen state.
“It’s cute to see the strangers be all hesitant at first (as most sane and sober people would be!) but once they go for it, it’s like watching fireworks, man (as barf-fully cheesy as that sounds),” Gizmodo’s Casey Chan writes, filing the video under the tag “beautiful” in a post that has racked up more than 4 million hits since last night and is still climbing. “It’s unexpectedly touching, like watching a documentary turn into a romantic comedy that doesn’t suck.”
Actually, it’s an advertisement for clothes, and most of these strangers are professional performers who are experienced in acting out love, sex, and intimacy for crowds. The cast includes models Natalia Bonifacci, Ingrid Schram, and Langley Fox (daughter of actress Mariel Hemingway and sister of model Dree); musicians Z Berg of The Like, Damian Kulash of OK Go, Justin Kennedy of Army Navy, singer Nicole Simone, and singer-actress Soko (who also performed the melancholy indie music that accompanies the short); and actors Karim Saleh, Matthew Carey, Jill Larson, Corby Griesenbeck, Elisabetta Tedla, Luke Cook, and Marianna Palka. Is it really unexpectedly touching that when gorgeous and charismatic Italian models, French actors, indie band leaders, and Hollywood royalty get together to kiss one another—under a soundtrack that prompts, “If you’re not ready for love, how can you be ready for life?”—the results are “beautiful”?
I’m betting that if Pilieva had filmed the video with a more diverse cast of all the people in the world who constitute “strangers,” the result would have been more unsettlingly comedic than searchingly romantic. It would also have been more interesting, if infinitely less sharable. The video peddles the fantasy that beauty can spring from an unexpected connection between two random people, but what it’s really showing us is the beauty of models making out. It’s like the hipster Bachelor. I doubt that millions of viewers would be so quick to celebrate a video of randos kissing if they were all less thin, hip, stylish, charming, and well-manicured.
Mercifully, there are a few relative normals stacked into the deck who hint at what that experiment might have looked like had nonperformers been tapped to go at it. The most realistic part of the video is when screenwriter Robby O’Connor awkwardly tells his partner: “Since you’re an actress, you’ve done this before, and … I’ll follow your lead then. Maybe that isn’t the best way to kiss someone!”*