If you’re told you’re about to see a film that’s in French, English and Russian, the average fool would think that it would entail pretension, confusion and foreign people. Only one is correct in this case. In fact, after a span of off-the-wall cinema choices, Russian Dolls is probably the most “mainstream” film I’ve seen in weeks. The genre is worryingly close to ‘rom-com’, which was at first alarming to me. Just thinking about rom-com’s usually makes me want to kill someone horribly, just to get rid of the fake, sugar-coated view they have of the world. But Russian Dolls takes a more matter-of-fact view on love, as in; it’s unpleasant, difficult and creates a big mess.
Now before all those luvvie duvvies raise their hands in horror and protest, let me finish the review. Russian Dolls centres on Xavier (a carbon copy of Seth from the OC), a just-turned-thirty French writer who spends his time scrabbling for work and trying to find himself a woman. Xavier’s problem is he wants the perfect woman, so he ends up sabotaging fledgling relationships just in case something better comes along. The big idiot. His story spans several countries, gathers numerous characters (some of which featured in the film’s predecessor Auberge Espagnole, which you don’t need to have seen to appreciate this follow up) and delves into several sub-plots, some probably unnecessary but all oddly intriguing.
As far as ‘com’ goes, this film ticks the box. It’s not wet-your-pants hilarious, but there are some very amusing moments, and some brilliantly playful fantasy sequences. The cast are models straight out of an advert for designer clothes. They are all infuriatingly beautiful, and I’d hate every one of them if they couldn’t act. But subtle glances, blinked back tears and cheeky smiles save the day. There’s also lots of nudity – male and female. Something for everyone.
Ok, so back to the ‘rom’. This isn’t the clichéd rubbish that Xavier himself is forced to write for television. Characters are greatly flawed. Audrey Tautou’s Martine is a big cow, flicking through men and using Xavier when she’s lonely. Londoner Wendy keeps going back to her violent loser boyfriend. Xavier screws up a promising relationship by screwing around. Even the one couple who find love of a Russian variety and get married at the end aren’t perfect – their brief looks of uncertainty darkened the mood in places. It’s all quite real, and therefore I liked it. I especially liked Xavier’s final analogy between love and Russian Dolls – that you know the final doll is in there somewhere, but you have to go through all the others to get to it, and you’re never sure if each one will be the last. It’s so very true, and although it casts a small cloud over the potentially happy ending (is she really the last ‘doll’?) it still provides a glimmer of hope for miserable bastards like me - that someday you will stumble across the smallest doll.
Russian Dolls is over two hours long, and perhaps there are scenes and entire sub-plots that can be cut out without affecting the essence of the film. But it’s so jam packed with characters and plot it doesn’t feel like time is being dragged out. Actually, you could probably expand all the subplots and make a decent TV series out of it. But as a stand alone film, it has enough humour, interest and snazzy directing techniques to be successful. It makes CF0, and gains an extra point for having a realist view of romance, and because I fancied the lead actor. Therefore Russian Dolls gets CF1.