The Rice-Irwin Kiss back in '96 was a self-conscious romantic interlude, silent sweet nothings with touched cheeks and lips, the private moment exposed--but fleeting. The Seven Ages, though, scatters public kisses all around, from infancy to dotage: The baby gets its bottle--and a hug and kiss--as well as the barefoot boy with cheek of tan and his childish paramour under the tree; and so on as the couple grows into adolescence--still barefoot, still playing at kisses--and then young lovers, their coyness almost gone; and on to the soldier, home at last, and well-kissed; then the family, sober judge and dutiful brood; and finally the second childhood before the fire. And in each of the seven the camera jumps closer to the kissers, again inviting near-intimacy.
As sentimental and, yes, tired as it may be--animated ghosts of magic lantern shows--this Seven Ages sidles closer to Shakespeare's "melancholy Jaques" than one might assume. In As You Like It the Bard filigreed the sphinx's three-part riddle (man as the creature that walks on four, then two, then three legs) into intricacies of exits and entrances, many parts for mere players; while in the cinema, the "strange eventful history" seems softened, almost tamed--until the end, an eighth moment as coda: the old maid. "What Age?" the title queries, as she sits alone with her cat. I am always ready to shed a sentimental tear in the midst of a knowing wink; and so she follows me out of the theater, and brings me back to Jaques' soliloquy, "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." The ages of this little production reassure--everyone gets his and her seven kisses--except, again, the lonely, as the unmoving camera refuses to take us toward to the old maid's un-kissed face, the distance more sad than respectful.