Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Les Poupées russes

2005, France/UK, directed by Cédric Klapisch

Like Cédric Klapisch's previous L'Auberge espagnole, of which this is a continuation, Les Poupées russes is an attempt to tell a truly European rather than purely national story (Michael Haneke's efforts in this direction are perhaps the strongest to date, but Klapisch is carving out an interesting niche). While the first film took a scenario familiar to many a young European, that of a year abroad in a polyglot setting, the follow-up spends most of its time traversing the English Channel between London and Paris, with an excursion to Russia, and a confrontation with a different aspect of the broader Europe - though St Petersburg is arguably the "acceptable" face or Russia from the Western European perspective. The notion of being a citizen of Europe rather than of one specific country is celebrated here, with those (generally young) citizens accepting the challenges of multiple languages and constant movement.

As in the first film, plot often takes a back seat to Klapisch's instincts to give his very personable cast free rein: the overall narrative shape is less important than the individual incidents. For the most part, the strategy works well enough, though it does tend to mean that the film's central character, Xavier (Romain Duris), is subjected to rather more incident than seems credible. There's also a sense that Xavier is a tremendously fortunate young man who doesn't appreciate that good fortune, and the film's rushed progress leaves little time to reflect on his confused position; in that, Klapisch is fortunate to have an actor of Duris's magnetism, who is capable of ensuring that we care about the character even when he behaves, at times, like a cad.

It's hard to hold this structural weakness against Klapisch given his sure hand with the individual vignettes, however. He's careful to ensure that each of his key characters has a moment to shine: Audrey Tautou is generally best with gamine roles, but she has a moment of real fire here that's quite startling, while Kevin Bishop has a lovely sequence wherein he narrates an encounter with the love of his life. Klapisch has fun, too, with the visual aspects of his story, whether recounting one young woman's rather sad love life as though it were a fairytale, or a running joke that spoofs - with eerie accuracy - French TV romances.

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