Still pot luck

Flm Cedric Klapisch's Russian Dolls picks up the story of Xavier, the Tefl student from the director's earlier beautiful film Pot Luck (L'auberge espagnole) five years on from his stay in Barcelona, still directionless in life and love. The film episodically charts a series of his relationships as he attempts to find a soul mate. The title is a metaphore -- he concludes that each encounter and woman is someone he has to love and leave before he can find the near-perfect relationship at the centre.

Which is the tension within the film because done badly this could have some across as a transcontinental Confessions of a Window Cleaner as a French Casanova jumps from bed to bed. It's a fine line, and indeed there are enough too easy connections to make a grown man jealous. But film stays on the right side of that line because the script is careful to portray Xavier's flaws despite lead actor Romain Duris' charisma. On more than one occasion you'll be wanting to shout asshole at the screen as his latent misogyny drifts to the surface and despite his apparent position of hero you'll want to cheer when someone literally gives him a punch in the face.

The drift out of Asquith territory is also helped immeasurably by individuality of the female characters and the performances of this predominantly female cast. C├ęcile De France as Isabelle continues to steal scenes much as she did first time around. This was the other film that Kelly Reilly made in the year which also included her 'break out' roles in Pride & Prejudice and Mrs Henderson Presents and again I'd say this is another example of her versatility -- there's a scene on a station platform which will make you melt. This was the bridging film for Audrey Tautou between A Very Long Engagement and The Da Vinci Code and as with Pot Luck it's odd to see her disappearing into an ensemble, not the focus of the camera's attentions.

Which isn't to say that it isn't a gorgrous looking film, Klapisch trademark collage like visual textures and lusterous photography of Paris and ... that would spoil it. Suffice to say that familiar places look totally uncommon and there's an amazing moment when Duris and Reilly are sitting at the front top of a double decker bus and it's being shot from the outside through the window. I've never seen anything like that. Also watch for fun with mobile phones and people standing on the balconies of building behind people's shoulder. You know how it was shot, you just didn't think anyone had the patience.

Like Richard Linklater's Before Sunset, this is the opportunity to revisit loved characters some years later to see what happened next, and the results are logical within the world of the original film. It seems right that Xavier would not quite have settled yet, just as mockney wildboy William was changed by the experience. As you would expect, some of these changes and developments will only resonate with people who enjoyed the original film, but I think there's still enough going on for people who missed that to join anew here. The director's not afraid to break from Xavier as the focus of the story if it allows us to peak into the new lives of our old friends.

One of the joys of Klapisch's films is that he doesn't feel the need to imprint a too structured story if the material doesn't demand it. Even when one presents itself -- a shift from girl to girl in order in the style of Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, the director breaks the time frame, dropping in flashbacks or possible dream sequences that break the expected pattern. It's refreshing because it breaks the audience's expectations although it does rather mean that unlike anything else, you're not quite sure when it will end. I'd stay for the credits -- it'll save you getting up and then having to sit down again...

[I still don't understand why this took a whole calender year to be released in the UK or why it hasn't had a much wider release considering the present of flavours of the month Duris, Tatou and especially Reilly. I can't tell whether it's because the first film also suffered from a tiny release, or the collage of language and setting or the anti-structure approach to the material. All I can say is that I'm glad it's finally here, I've seen it and I can't wait for the dvd.]

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