The Russian Dolls (Les Poupées russes, 2005)

Since his charming 1996 feature debut While The Cat's Away, Cedric Klapisch threatened to establish himself as a new-age Max Ophuls, maker of films based in blithe humanism and witsful romanticism. He's not likely to ever attain that status; his films are consistently overlong, slackly built, and often perform an assault and battery of whimsy. But they're just as often warmly witty and always good to look at. The big international hit of The Spanish Apartment resulted in this sequel, reuniting most of the original, very talented cast. TSA was a romp based in a common experience - college kids house-sharing - with young hero Xavier (Romain Duris) trying to kick off his civil service future and sexual inexperience. The sequel finds he has succeeded a bit too well; his writing career has become a series of puff pastry bakes - his new project for TV is "Love Passion in Venice" - and he's busy bedding every woman in the known universe. He juggles time with his ex-fiancee Martine (Audrey Tautou), convinces his lesbian friend Isabelle (Cecile de France, thankfully rescued from more films like Around the World in 80 Days) to pose as his fiancee for his 98-y-o grandfather's benefit, beds a supermodel (Lucy Gordon) whose memoirs (she's 24) he's ghostwriting, and eventually falls in love with Wendy (Kelly Reilly) when they link up to do an English-language version of the script. Meanwhile Wendy's brother William (Kevin Bishop), recovering English boofhead, is marrying a Russian ballet dancer in St Petersburg. The Russian Dolls doesn't have much story propulsion. Truth of the matter is, it has none. The film lurches around, built of lazily conjoined short stories. But the unforced acting is generally a treat; Duris keeps his character entirely this side of likeable even when being a jerk, and Reilly for the first time in her career didn't irritate me. More importantly, the film has a depth its predecessor lacked, with its slightly pained observations of the loss of quicksilver youth and emotional growth.

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