Film For much of 2006, I was at Manchester University enjoying my MA in Screen Studies. The extent to which this was a useful thing in career terms, I'm still trying to decide for reasons which I won't write about here but since it was the moment when I was knee deep in celluloid (or dvds and VHS tape for "viewing lists" as was the mode before Netflix though to be fair probably still is since much of the film canon isn't on Netflix) (unless you agree that Netflix is the canon) it feels like I should be choosing a film for this year which somehow captures the experience of being at university doing that course.
Russian Dolls is the second film in Cedric Klapisch's Xavier series, sequel to L'Auberge Espagnole, sequeled itself with last year's Chinese Puzzle, with its globe trotting protagonist played by Romain Durais becoming romantically involved with his former flatmate Wendy (Kelly Reilly) and investigates Europe's relationship with Russia via the relationship between Wendy's brother played by that Kevin Bishop and a ballerina (played by actual ballerina Evgenia Obraztsova). As I said in my original review, the title is a metaphor for how Xavier must experience a number of relationships before he reaches the one which will be most important, a process which arguably continued into the third film.
The film is emblematic as the kind of film which I might not have watched before my noughties film education. While its true that I discovered international cinema as an undergraduate, it's not until the mid-noughties that I really began to discover continental film history with L'Auberge Espagnole and Bertolucci's The Dreamers as the spark and it's only through film studies that I could really understand what Klapisch's film was trying to do beyond the sex comedy it could too easily be interpreted as being. One of the most important things my French cinema teacher said was that we should often look at the elements of film as total constructs and representations rather simple entertainment.
When I sat with a college friend in the tiny screen three at the Cornerhouse in Manchester to see Russian Dolls, all of liberal arts learning, so much forgotten now, was buzzing around my mind, but despite that I still sobbed unashamedly for Wendy on the platform and yet because if it, I think, I forgave Xavier for some of his choices because I could see they were representative of a kind of attitude, part of the director's approach to creating a flawed protagonist (who again arguably doesn't redeem himself until Chinese Puzzle). That's the dual mindspace the best films can conjure, when the heart and head are both nourished.
I always wonder what happened to my companion for that screening. We'd met during those French cinema seminars, about gender and sexuality (she was on a different course which shared that module) and we'd chatted afterwards in the cafe afterwards each week over lunch. We were never really friends, friends, just acquaintances and I don't even remember how it was we came to go to see Russian Dolls together. But it was also towards the end of the teaching year and I think it was also the last time we saw each other. If by some remote chance she's reading this it would be nice to get back in touch to update each other. Though the chances are remote, I'd like to know what she thought of Chinese Puzzle.