"The Russian Dolls" ("Les poupées russes") is a bright, sexy, globe-trotting and very French romantic comedy that asks a tough question:
Has globalization destroyed the myth of True Love?
The movie follows a bunch of gorgeous twentysomethings as they commute endlessly around Europe, tending little bonfires of lust and angst. And as bullet-trains, telecommunication and macroeconomics shorten the distance between them, the film seems to argue that young adults can always find sexual partners more desirable than their current lovers. (The film's title is a metaphor for the discovery of romance after romance after romance.)
But the movie also asks a follow-up question: Do all these sexual options make choosing to stay with just one person even more special?
"Dolls" is a sequel to "L'Auberge espagnole" ("The Spanish Apartment"), a 2002 comedy by writer/director Cédric Klapisch about a Parisian student named Xavier (Romain Duris) living with an international mix of co-eds in Barcelona. You don't need to see the first film to get the gist of the new one, which catches up with Xavier on the cusp of 30.
He's an aimless emotional wreck -- perpetually distracted from his literary ambitions by a freelance-writing career that has him hacking out vapid feature stories and TV scripts. He enjoys awkward friendships with his activist ex-girlfriend (Audrey Tautou) and his lesbian roommate (Cécile De France).
"Don't forget to write important things," Xavier's grandfather tells him -- but who's got the time? Tautou puts it more bluntly: "Your work is a load.... You're a parasite."
Anyone who lusted after Duris' New Wave sex-bomb character in "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" may be shocked and awed by the actor's forays into dorkiness here. As Xavier narrates the film and awkwardly juggles lovers -- including his TV-co-writer (Kelly Reilly) and the supermodel (Lucy Gordon) whose memoirs he's ghostwriting -- Duris does everything from silly dances to running nude down the street. It's another tour de force, but totally different from "Beat."
By the time the movie reunites most of the characters at a St. Petersburg wedding, "Russian Dolls" has become a sort of wandering rom-com epic -- kicking romantic fallacies in the ribs while capturing something essential about the solipsism and dreams of young urbanites.
And Klapisc works overtime to make his movie a gorgeous confection. He jam-packs the screen with visual collages and dream sequences and candy colors. The laid-back lounge-pop soundtrack is collection-worthy. Drama meshes beautifully with decadent wackiness. There's some beautiful writing. (Reilly gives a heartbreaking little speech about "loving what's not perfect.") And the movie just sort of tingles with playful lust; this 21st-century romance is one of the sexiest movies I've seen in ages.
The dally of the 'Dolls' (The Oregonian, June 30, 2006)