Like Richard Linklater with the Before series Klapisch’s return to his previous characters proves much more thoughtful and mature. Three years after the events of L’Auberge Espagnole we re-encounter Xavier who is now, in a sense, working as a writer.
Klapisch ditches the less interesting characters from L’Auberge Espagnole but still leaves enough variety for comic situations ranging from Xavier dressed in drag, to being abandoned in a nightclub with a glass of milk. The characters have grown up in the years we haven’t seen them and the performances are equally more accomplished. Kelly Reilly really shines through as her character gains a much bigger role in this film and a more rounded personality appears behind the cut-glass accent and tea drinking. Audrey Tautou and Cécile de France provide another two great performances as the irritatingly attractive and totally off-limits female friends that every young bachelor must have. The only character who doesn’t seem to have matured is Xavier himself. Duris shows him just as clueless, clumsy and naïve as he was before. The vast majority of the humour comes at Xavier’s expense, everyone around him is seeing the world through adult eyes and building careers while he is still floundering about hoping to sleep with supermodels. It’s a strange reshaping of the ensemble, but it works well.
Sticking with the multicultural theme Les Poupées Russes is set in France, England and Russia, with more travelling between and within the three than is feasible for a 20-something writing shoddy screenplays while clutching an unpublished novel. Yet these are minor considerations. While much of the plot does feel awfully convenient and contrived, these little coincidences are what drive the story forward.
The best turn in this film comes totally unexpectedly from Kevin Bishop. From being an insufferable student in L’Auberge Espagnole he becomes the epitome of a man changed by love, learning Russian in a year so that he could fly to St Petersburg to chase a ballerina. It’s a perfect love story for the two, the dainty Natasha (Evguenya Obraztsova) provides a foil to the bulky and brash William and it’s genuinely uplifting to watch the tender relationship shown on screen.
Klapisch’s style is a lot more comprehensible in Les Poupées Russes. Here, when the action is interrupted for a fantasy sequence or a voiceover sneaks in it is poignant, funny and memorable. The extraneous details have been left aside and distilled into a genuinely charming set of characters discovering what life holds for them personally in the new global community.
- Entertainment: 3/5
- Artistic: 3/5
- Intellectual: 3/5