Russian Dolls / Les Poupées russes
(Cédric Klapisch, France, 2005, 35mm, 125 mins.)
"Writing is arranging life's stuff."
-- Xavier (Romain Duris)
The title has two meanings, only one of which I will reveal here: Writer/director
Cédric Klapisch's sequel to Gallic phenomenon L'Auberge Espagnole (2002)
was filmed in France, England, and Russia. The other meaning, which explains
the main character's view of his love life, arrives at the end of the film.
Five years have passed since the now 30-year-old Xavier (Romain Duris, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) and friends made their debut, and everyone is moving on
with their lives. As he had hoped, Xavier is making his living as a writer. It's a common career for the lead in a romantic comedy, but Klapisch brings a real freshness to the premise. Like many freelancers, Xavier is trying to find a balance between earning an income and sticking to his convictions. Whenever he fears he may be crossing the line into ethical compromise, he envisions himself playing a flute to someone else's tune. This dopey doppelgänger pops up throughout the film.
Xavier and ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou, mercifully free from those Da Vinci Code shackles) are both single and living in Paris. They're best friends, although he also spends as much time as possible with his 98-year-old grandfather. Her son (not Xavier's) is now five years old. An environmental activist, Martine rarely sees his father, while Xavier has just ended a relationship (recreated through flashbacks).
Openly gay Isabelle (Cécile de France), a pal from the Barcelona flat, is another single Parisian. She's become a hotshot financial journalist and makes more money than her friends. (It shows in her airy living quarters, which Xavier shares when he gets bounced from his humble abode). Their British flatmates from the Spanish sojourn, William (Kevin Bishop) and his sister Wendy (Kelly Reilly, the doomed showgirl in Mrs. Henderson Presents), live in London, where he works as a lighting technician and she toils as a screenwriter -- and magnet for possessive boyfriends.
Of course, there has to be an occasion by which to reunite these far-flung
friends. It's William's wedding to Russian ballerina Natacha (Evgenia Obraztsova), hence the trip most will take to St. Petersburg in the final sequence. While there, Xavier who has been bouncing from woman to woman, will set his sights on one
in particular. Whether their relationship will last is a moot point. For Xavier, committing to one woman -- even for a short time -- still counts as progress.
At 129 minutes, Russian Dolls threatens to overstay its welcome. As enchanting
as it is, the material is too thin to justify the length. Yet I didn't mind. That's because the two films play more like a short BBC series than a movie (Queer
as Folk comes to mind). That may sound odd, but I mean it as a compliment.
There are a lot of characters -- I haven't even mentioned the Senegalese shopgirl
or British supermodel -- much Chunneling between France and the UK, dialogue in
four languages, and a variety of fantastical diversions along the way. It's Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep as sitcom. Klapisch has also cited Truffaut as an influence, specifically The Man Who Loved Women (1977) and the Antoine Doinel
series with Jean-Pierre Léaud (like 1968's Stolen Kisses, below). Russian Dolls, incidentally, is his eighth film and fourth to feature the versatile Monsieur Duris.
Clearly, Klapisch loves these characters, especially Xavier, and the actors
have all stated that they would be willing to reunite again, so don't be surprised
if a third "Auberge" entry should come to pass. I don't normally like romantic comedies, as most major studio efforts are neither romantic nor funny.
("Slick" and "fast-paced" just doesn't cut it.) Russian Dolls is both.
Sure, Xavier can be a "self-centered egotist," as he so succinctly puts it, and
the biggest problem in his life is an abundance of attractive women. No matter.
I found him terribly entertaining -- he swears like a sailor, dances like an idiot,
and in a flashback, even runs down the street naked (his former girlfriend
started it). But most of all: There isn't anything he wouldn't do for love. What
could be more romantic than that? Give me a sequel, and I'll be first in line.
The Seattle theatrical premiere of Russian Dolls plays the Northwest Film Forum
July 7-13, Fri.-Thurs. at 7 and 9:30pm (Sat. and Sun. at 4:30pm). The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Ave. For more information, please click here. You can
also call 206-329-2629 for general info or 206-267-5380 for show times.