Russian Dolls
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Russian Dolls

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There is something special about catching up with old friends. Who politely ask what has transpired over the intervening years, examine each other for signs of age and gauge just how their lives have moved on. In Cédric Klapisch’s latest film The Russian Dolls (Les Poupées russes) he picks up five years after the group of friends where portrayed in his 2002 film Pot Luck (L’ Auberge espagnole). Klapisch presents to the audience a poignant look at relationships and maturity. This is the way a sequel is supposed to be, not just a continuation of the original story but a tale that can stand on its own showing events we may have wondered about after viewing the first film.

As with the first film the central character is Xavier Rousseau (Romain Duris), In the five years that have gone by he has transformed from a proper French economics student living with his friends in a flat in Barcelona. Now he has become much freer in his relationships with women. He is still wondering about the direction his life is taking and is as confused as ever about his future. He works as a Paris based freelance writer floating through life without an apartment of his own. Even though his ideal of the perfect woman is set very high this doesn’t prevent Xavier from jumping into bed with Miss Right Now. The opportunity for at least transitory feminine companionship is never far from Xavier. As much as he struggles as a writer, still unable to get his novel finished, he has little difficulty in get beautiful young women into bed. He writes scripts for a French soap opera, and has taken the job of ghost writing the autobiography of a ego inflated, 24 year-old super model, Célia Shelburn (Lucy Gordon). She complains consistently about the burden of fame and it almost seems like Xavier allows her to seduce him just to shut her up. He also has a fling with a store clerk, Kassia (Aïssa Maïga), somewhat infatuated with the concept of interracial relationships but still unable to truly make things work. When he reconnects with his former girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou), a single mother and environmental enthusiast, she may take him to her bed but she calls him out for his self centered life devoid of any meaning. While Xavier is not worried about a lonely night he can’t find someone to attend a family function for his aged grandfather. He talks his friend Isabelle (Cécile de France) to play the part of his fiancée to make the elderly man happy. Isabelle works as a financial journalist and since she is a lesbian immune to the charms of Xavier. In a little light moment she attends the function dressed in masculine clothes.

Xavier’s life is altered to some degree when one of his television scripts is picked up by a British station for English adaptation. Working on this with him is one of his former roommates from Barcelona, Wendy (Kelly Reilly).In some ways her life has turned in the same direction as Xavier. She has moved from one bad or abusive relationship after another and hopes she has finally found something real with her old friend. Wendy’s brother, William (Kevin Bishop) who has moved to St. Petersburg and become engaged to a Russian ballerina, Natacha (Evguenya Obraztsova). The wedding is a perfect reason to gather old friends together for a reunion.

Yes guys, this is a relationship movie but please don’t be afraid. Over the last three decades my wife has trained me nicely and I can watch such films without any decrease in masculine self image. You do have to keep in mind that this is a French relationship film and is therefore inherently different from what we have over here. For most American films of this genre the characters are often cartoon representations of prototypes. If this film was made in the States we would have the goofy writer/ladies man looking for the meaning of life. There would be the required lesbian friend, the old flame and the plethora of empty headed females. Such a film like this would be funny but there would lack any depth to the characters or the plot. Cédric Klapisch’s take on this is much different. First of all he cares about the characters he created back in 2002. SO much so that he felt it necessary to pick up on their lives five (movie) years later. Klapisch sees cinema for the best it can be, an art form mirroring the human condition. While serious subjects are confronted here they are approached with a humor and sensitivity. His characters discover that emotional growth is not an easy matter. It comes with pain, with laughs and with experience.

Since the primary cast all worked on the original film the sense of reunited friends comes about in a natural fashion. They revive the chemistry they had back then altered only by how their personal lives have changed over the years. Romain Duris gives the audience a Xavier who is genuinely uncertain about life. He wants to write the great novel but knows he lacks the experience in life to do it. Duris presents Xavier as a man who substitutes meaningless physical pleasure for any lasting relationship. When things start to click with Wendy he seems to want to sabotage it with an affair with the model. His motivation is more human weakness and uncertainty than just getting a few laughs. Audrey Tautou gives one of the best performances of her career. She could have played Martine just as a single mother looking for a little physical contact and an ad hoc babysitter but instead her character is just as confused as the rest of our species. Kelly Reilly is beautiful as she is talented. She brings pathos to the film that is amazing.

Once again the Independent Film Channel in association with Genius Products brings to the American audience a film that many would otherwise never know existed. Even if a film mostly in French may not excite a lot of Americans this film is worth reading the subtitles. The video is presented in a matted letterbox that retains the original theatrical aspect ratio. The colors are brilliant and considering the director’s flair for scenery this is a requirement that is well met. The French/English soundtrack is in a full, rich Dolby 5.1. The ambience is near perfect. The speakers provide a realistic sound field that pulls you in. As mentioned there are subtitles. They persist even when the dialogue is in English so you wind up with an English translation. It’s a little annoying but you soon learn to overlook it. There is a short making of featurette. This is a straight forward DVD presentation but what matters here is the film and that is well worth having in your collection.

Posted 9/29/06

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