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Les poupées russes

The sequel to French writer-director Cedric Klapisch's charming L'AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE (2003) reunites much of the attractive original cast in a further exploration of love among the young and the restless. As the film opens, writer Xavier (Romain Duris) is zipping between London and Paris on the Eurostar, bemoaning the complete and utter mess he's made of his life. It all began when his English friend William (Kevin Bishop) invited all his friends to St. Petersburg for his wedding to Russian ballerina Natacha (Evguenya Obraztsova)... no, scratch that. It began earlier, in Barcelona, where Xavier spent a year supposedly learning Spanish with the goal of securing a job at the French Ministry of Finance, but instead decided to pursue a career in writing and formed a lasting network of friendships connected by the bustling, spacious apartment he and his roommates dubbed "The Spanish Inn." A couple of years later, — tired of magazine articles and ghost-writing — Xavier leaps at the chance to write a teleplay, even one with the unpromising title "Passionate Love in Venice" — despite the fact that he's made a hash of his own love life. He recently lost his apartment and moved in with Isabelle (Cecile De France), one of the Barcelona crowd. Though his crush on her went nowhere — she prefers women — they're great friends, and her lucrative gig as a TV financial adviser means she has a fabulous apartment. He's also on good terms with his ex-girlfriend, Martine (Audrey Tautou), though her commitment to global activism — however flighty — is a painful reminder that he's nearly 30 and hasn't done anything significant with his life. Then William, another Barcelona pal, reappears, just as Xavier gets the news that because of a corporate merger, "Passionate Love in Venice" will have to be rewritten in English. No problem, says William: Xavier can just tell the producers that he'll rewrite it with an English screenwriter — William's sister Wendy (Kelly Reilly), yet another auberge alumna. In short order, Xavier is simultaneously entangled with Wendy, who's messily extricating herself from a bad relationship with the loutish Edward (Gary Love), and with self-absorbed supermodel Celia Shelton (Lucy Gordon), whose memoir he's ghosting. Klapisch's use of split screens, fragmented images and nouvelle vague-ish editing would be annoying if it weren't so in keeping with the youthful exuberance his characters haven't quite lost, and his faith in love is tempered by a clear-eyed understanding of just how much it demands of lovers. (In French, English and Russian with subtitles.)