Les Poupees Russes (Russian Dolls) is the sequel to L’Auberge Espagnole, which showed Xavier (Romain Duris) in his mid twenties. Five years later Russian Dolls has Xavier in his thirties and failing in his career as a writer as well as his love life. He lies to his grandfather about his love life, telling him that he has a fiancé (bringing his lesbian roommate to meet him), but is surprisingly honest about his writing career. He is somewhat ignorant to the fact that his writing is going nowhere, but is well aware that the same is true about his romances.
This does not mean that he doesn’t have romances. There are plenty of women in Xavier’s life, but he juggles relationships like he juggles bad writing jobs while procrastinating writing a novel of substance. He stays close to his ex girlfriend, Martine, but keeps himself at a distance from her romantically. When he takes a job writing a bad television soap with an old friend in
London, he finds himself beginning to
fall for her, but he is just as quickly called back to to
ghostwrite a young model’s memoirs. Soon Xavier is bouncing back and forth
between the two jobs and the women attached to them. This truly is an
international romance film. France
Russian Dolls follows the stream of consciousness of a man writing the first draft of a book, as is the source of the narration in the film. This makes for loose and casual storytelling which jumps back and forth in time as our narrator remembers things which must be learned before he can continue on the original train of thought. It’s chaotic and wildly more entertaining than the obvious and predictable journey the narrative would have felt like had it been structured more traditionally. There is a fantastical sense to the story as well. In a particularly fascinating sequence Martine, played by Audrey Tautou (Amelie), tells her son about her past love life through the metaphor of a fairy tale. As she sits on his bed dressed as a princess and unravels the story, a magical forest appears in his room and a castle sits behind them.
Because Xavier is a writer as much as he is fascinated by the idea of finding true love, it would seem that he could easily write a love story, but each time he is given the chance he is unable to complete it believably. As he writes the story that we essentially watch in the film, he indirectly tells a number of love stories by describing the lives of those around him. Everyone seems able to find love in one way or another and the simplicity and converse complexities of these stories add layers to Xavier’s perception of love. The film even abandons Xavier for a sequence to tell the story of his friend’s encounter with a Russian ballet dancer. It is difficult not to lose faith and interest in Xavier as he intentionally hurts women who care about him, but these sort of films have a way of working things out by the end.