Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Do you still not know what you want to be when you grow up?

Do you believe in love? Do you want it, yearn for it, but somehow find yourself afraid of it and aren't sure where to go about finding it anyway?

You should see Russian Dolls (Les Poupées Russes), Cedric Klapisch's sequel to L'Auberge Espagnole (Which you should see first, if you haven't already).

The first film tells the light-hearted story of Xavier's (Romain Duris from last year's The Beat That My Heart Skipped) year in Barcelona,* where he shares an apartment with what seems like one representative from each country in the European Union. I watched this movie the summer after I came back from my first stay in Paris and in it I saw myself. It's not a serious movie, but it perfectly captures the crazy, amazing experience that is study abroad and all of the scenes between the multi-cultural roommates were so similar to the kind of interactions I had with my neighbors (who were mostly Italian and Spanish) in Paris as to be uncanny.

Les Poupées Russes, I saw just last month and it had much the same effect. Xavier, like me, has gotten older. Like me, he's no longer a student, but he still doesn't really know what he wants to do with his life. And like me, he wants to live fully and leave nothing out, but he's not sure how.

A perfect representative of the Yeppie generation, Xavier goes through several jobs, girlfriends, and geographic locations (Paris, London, St. Petersburg, Moscow) over the course of the film, never content, never sure whether or not he has worked his way down to the last Russian doll, or whether it will open up to reveal another inside. In one impassioned monologue (which you can see in the French trailer, on the French site), he nicely encapsulates the whole mentality. I'll write it in French and then do my best to translate:

"C’est quoi ce bordel avec l’amour ? Quand t’es seul, tu te plains. Quand est-ce que je vais trouver quelqu’un ? Quand t’as quelqu’un, est-ce que c’est la bonne ? Est-ce que je l’aime vraiment ? Est-ce qu’elle m’aime autant que, moi, je l’aime ?"

"What the fuck is the deal with love? When you're alone, you're lonely. When will I find someone? When you have someone, is she the right one? Do I really love her? Does she love me as much as I love her?"

It's a new age of anxiety, but it has little to do with money or security. The question is happiness. Am I happy? If I am, am I as happy as I could be? Could I be happier if my life were different? Having thought that, have I ruined the happiness that I knew a moment ago because now I will be wracked by curiosity about the happiness I might find if I change?

There's a Samuel Beckett-esque absurdity to this line of self-interrogation and, if you really wanted, you could reduce it to a simple, immature fear of commitment, as David Denby does, but I think it's bigger than that. It speaks to our generation, which - if I'm a good example to go by - is defined by uncertainty, a desire to achieve a real-world happiness to match its college counterpart, and an adamant unwillingness to compromise. Maybe that is just an immature fear of committment, actually, but that's where I'm at and I don't think I'm alone on this one.

I will agree with Mr. Denby that both of these movies are, in content, little more than light comedies, but they are so immersed in this time in history and this time in a person's life, that they can't help but invite viewers of a certain age to identify with them completely. I don't feel like I'd be exaggerating if I said that these two films were cultural touchstones for our generation, just as American Graffiti was for all those old people I can't identify with.

Klapisch romanticizes and idealizes things a bit, as is always the case with light-hearted comedies, but he also taps into something true. Go see these movies.

*Which, as I write this, has just beaten Arsenal in the final round of the League of Champions. Yeah, I don't care much, either.


And speaking of cultural touchstones: I don't care what A.O. Scott says. I'm going to see this one.


Blogger Rival said...

As someone who saw the first film in the series I can honestly say that there is no point in even bothering with the second one. That film used fast motion like it was some kind of new exciting special effect and had a soundtrack like some wannabe pitchfork writer's first mix. And it's about Euros being and having sex and stuff. I'd rather watch the OC, it has writers who actually use the observed principles of dramatic structure to create a program that I enjoy. Get a grip

May 23, 2006 11:51 PM  

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