What happened to the Cédric Klapisch who directed Chacun Cherche Son Chat (When the Cat’s Away), an enchanting shoestring-budget film made in 1996 that didn’t have a single cliché in it? A charming and realistic look at an ordinary young woman’s life and adventures in a lovingly portrayed Paris neighborhood, it was far more entertaining than his big success, L’Auberge Espagnol and its new sequel, Les Poupées Russes.
L’Auberge was a fairly likable but cliché-ridden portrait of a group of European students of various nationalities sharing an apartment in Barcelona: the English guy was a drunken lout, the German was authoritarian and neat, and so on. In the new film, Klapisch takes another tour du monde with the same characters.
Although subtler and funnier than L’Auberge, Les Poupées is once again unapologetically clichéd: the line “Don’t be afraid of clichés” is actually repeated twice in the film. We are accordingly treated to picture-postcard tours of Paris, London and Saint Petersburg, although this time round the characters themselves are more convincing than they were in their first incarnation (though, true to form, the new Russian character is a ballerina, complete with tutu).
Now that Klapisch is working with bigger budgets, he is also throwing in some whimsical Amélie-style effects, showing onscreen what is going on the character’s mind: after bedding a gorgeous model, for example, the main character, played by Romain Duris, is seen riding proudly away from her house on a valiant steed rather than his usual motor scooter.
In spite of the clichés, this would still be a fine romantic comedy but for one thing: it is far, far too long, with too many digressions. Not much sweeping had to be done in the cutting-room for this film. Let’s hope that Klapisch will stop doing travelogues and return to the city he knows best: Paris.