RUSSIAN DOLLS is an amiable film. A lot of the scenes are played well, especially in the first half, and given that the movie is shot on Digital Video, Paris looks suitably dreamy. We should all live in such apartments! But, having said all this, ultimately, RUSSIAN DOLLS is a film that frustrates with its incoherent narrative structure.
RUSSIAN DOLLS is actually a sequel featuring a bunch of thirty-something Europeans, all of whom lived together in their student days. I have to confess to not seeing the original movie, and the sequel does not make me want to rush back to it. As in the original, RUSSIAN DOLLS focuses on Xavier, a Parisian writer played by Romain Duris, and his complicated love life. Xavier claims that he is in love with is best friend, Martine, played by Audrey Tautou (soon to be seen in the Da Vinci Code flick.) She is a single-mother environmental campaigner. Yet while Xavier looks after her kid and claims love, he also shows her precious little empathy when she is going through emotional difficulties – unceremoniously kicking her out of bed to make way for his latest squeeze, Kassia. Meanwhile, Xavier is crashing with his friend, Isabelle (played by the marvellous Cecile de France) a gay financial news reporter. Desperate to cheer up his frail grandfather by introducing him to a non-existent fiancée, Xavier persuades Isabelle to put on – the horror! – a dress and pretend for an evening.
In all these intertwining relationships that make up the first hour of the movie, I felt engaged with the characters and emotionally invested in how things would turn out. There is a lot of oh-so-clever use of editing and fantasy sequences (Audrey Tautou dressed as a princess, explaining to her son about the seven Princes Charming she has dated etc) which I found got in the way of the drama rather than enhancing my enjoyment of the film. But a lot of people were laughing so what do I know?
However, in the second hour the movie takes a sharp right-turn into an entirely different story. The three key female protagonists are dropped and we enter a new world! Xavier is now torn between a screenwriter who loves him, played by the unimpressive Kelly Reilly, and a supermodel whose memoirs he is ghost-writing. This whole segment seemed to me unrealistic, inauthentic and just plain bizarre. Moreover, I found the writer-director’s treatment of the Xavier character a little irritating. Here was a man who had been a bit of a shit to all the women in his life, but you know, he is charming and handsome and he can change, so that’s okay? In the final scene, we see a brief flash to the Audrey Tautou character, in a belated recognition that one of the key characters had been dropped. Frankly, the whole thing seemed stretched rather thin.
RUSSIAN DOLLS was released in France, Australia, Germany and Austria in 2005. It is currently on extremely limited release in the UK and US.