When I first caught "L'auberge espagnole", the predecessor to "Les poupées russes", on TV, I was in a bad mood. The movie, however, cheered me up so much, I fell in love with it, even more so, when years later I practically lived it on my own Erasmus semester. The bar was set up high for the sequel.
"Les poupées russes" doesn't really compare to the first part. The setting is different. Whereas in the original people from all over the world came together in Barcelona, this time Xavier goes to a lot of different locations (Paris, London, St. Petersburg, Moscow). Apart from Xavier, the focus of the story lies on people who were only side characters in "L'auberge espagnole" (Wendy, Martine, Isabelle, Kevin), but there stories don't necessarily go anywhere. For instance, we only get glimpses of where Martine and Xavier's mother are in their (love) lives without that ever resolving into anything. That's not a bad thing, but it makes "Les poupées russes" seem disjointed, as if it didn't have one continuous plot, but is a mere sequence of individual scenes.
Another thing that took me out of the movie, is the way the characters talk. It seems highly unnatural at times, but it may have to do with the fact that I watched the German dubbed version. I'd love to go back and see the original version with subtitles, as "L'auberge espagnole" was also much better that way.
However, what cannot be excused by translation is the movie's visual, off key humor, that really sometimes misses the mark this time around. When Xavier literally turns into a piper to lure employers into believing him, it's just not very funny. The same goes for scenes, in which he wears a dress, gets beat up by a lesbian or introduces his make-believe-fiancée to his grandpa. Wacky little fantasy moments do work here and there, but more often than not, they seem forced into the movie to match the style of the original.
One thing that I always liked about Xavier, is that he can be a selfish jerk at times, but still isn't treated as the bad guy in the story. That to me shows a differentiated, less clichéd idea of man on the filmmaker's part. It makes it easier to identify with the character. I'm not entirely satisfied with how Xavier's missteps where treated this time. Actually, thinking back I found it highly unrealistic that the doctor in part one forgave him so easily for sleeping with his wife. Much the same way, Xavier is forgiven this time, quickly and without explanation the movie just rushes to its end.
"Les poupées russes" is not entirely successful, and because of the aforementioned lack of storyline, it does drag on a bit. However, it is great to see how Xavier's life has continued after the first movie. "Les poupées russes" feels like a companion piece to its predecessor, a bit like "Before Sunset" was to "Before Sunrise". As in that franchise, the filmmakers could get away with another sequel, because these movies dependent on their characters more than on story.
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