In 2005, romantic comedies entered a strange, new phase.
Alongside the usual banter about love, relationships, jobs and urban lifestyles, we are treated to a discourse on what, until recently, would have seemed a rather dry topic: globalisation.
For the zany characters first assembled by writer-director Cédric Klapisch in The Spanish Apartment (2002), love makes the world go around – literally. Relationships spark, die and are revived on whirlwind tours of the globe, with St Petersburg, Paris or London serving as exotic backdrops.
Originally it was study that provided the pretext for this travel, but now it is mainly work – ephemeral, piecemeal work within the glamorous industries of fashion, modelling, journalism or television scriptwriting. In the fantasy that is Russian Dolls, differences of language and culture never stand in the way of such international relations.
Our anchor is Xavier (Romain Duris) – endlessly charming to some viewers, endlessly irritating to others. Whenever he searches the mirror for his true self, he reminds us of Francois Truffaut's alter ego, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), in films such as Stolen Kisses (1968). But the way he leaps, hopelessly besotted, from the neurotic Martine (Audrey Tatou) to the earthy Wendy (Kelly Reilly) via ditzy supermodel Celia (Lucy Gordon) more closely resembles another Truffaut classic, The Man Who Loved Women (1977).
Klapisch (When the Cat's Away, 1996) is skilled at maintaining the pace and focus of a busy plot containing a great many characters, locations and incidents (chronologically shuffled, bien sur). Too often, however, Russian Dolls strays into the slick realms of advertising and music video. Entire episodes pass in a blur of jazzy visual effects, cut to the beat of an aggressive boom-box score.
Whenever the film chills out, it gets better. Amid all the cosmopolitan dazzle, it is the small, incidental details of behaviour and reaction that stick in the mind – like the throwaway (but ominous) moment when Wendy seals her new-found intimacy with Xavier by lending him a copy of Harold Pinter's Betrayal.
© Adrian Martin December 2005