So tonight I saw Cedric Klapisch's film Les Poupées Russes, the latest saga in the life and loves of Xavier, a young confused writer who first appears in L'Auberge Espagnol. The first film is cute and frothy and not much more. It's about a diverse group of Europeans sharing a tiny apartment in Barcelona, universal shared experiences abroad, blah blah blah, and even though I had a similar experience myself a couple of years ago in Oxford (Number 8 St. John Street Forever!), I thought the movie was trite. (By the way, my favourite Klapisch film remains Chacun Cherche Son Chat, filmed entirely on and around the rue du Charonne and the Bastille neighborhood in Paris just as it was really changing. It combines one woman's quest to escape her soliltude with a subtle commentary on urban gentrification).
The second film, however, really surprised me. Where the first is silly but predictable in its jouissance, the second is much more sophisticated. It also takes more cinematic risks, and somehow seems funnier as well, but the humor here is more melancholy, more uncertain. Perhaps it is because the characters have truly aged, or perhaps it is because the actors (Roman Duris and Kelly Reilly) have also matured. (And I now have an enormous crush on Duris. I cannot wait to see De Battre Mon Coeur S'est Arrêté).
There is a moment near the beginning of the film when Duris is sitting on the couch with Audrey Tautou, who plays his ex-girlfriend. They are looking desolate and eating chocolate cake. It is her birthday. They discuss their present situation: "Are you seeing someone?" "No.
What follows is a succession of stories of relationships (supposedly like Russian dolls, but not really as they aren't all contained one within the other), narrated by Xavier, about his attempts to find love, none of which work. This is due in part to Xavier's misplaced and unrealistic specifications. His flawed relationships are alternately beautiful, witty, embarassing, and somewhat painful, especially because Xavier struggles so hard to make himself feel something truthful. Xavier is not really a loveable character, in part because he's got a gorgeous, intelligent, successful character in love with him, yet he doesn't appreciate her. She doesn't fit his idea of who he should be with. But his confusion is endearing (or at least it was to me. I mean, it's Roman Duris!!!). The story is told with such wit and good humor, I was sorry to see it end. Sound familiar? Bienvenue à les années trentes.