Those sneaky French — turning a romantic comedy into a trilogy, maybe even a
franchise, without even telling us.
It started in 2002, in Barcelona, with a bunch of foreign exchange students
— meeting, flirting and falling into one another’s arms in “L’Auberge
Espagnole” (“The Spanish Inn”).
It continued in London, Paris and St. Petersburg with “Russian Dolls” (2005).
And now, as the characters and the actors playing them — Romain Duris,
Audrey Tautou, Kelly Reilly, Cecile de France — push 40, they collide once
more. This time they’re in New York, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, in “Chinese
“I love the idea of following these characters in their 20s, 30s and 40s,”
says writer-director Cedric Klapish, who is 52. “You don’t cover the same
subjects you would in an ordinary movie. You’re talking about time passing,
getting older, how a person changes from his 20s to age 40. The dreams you have
when you’re 25 that change when you’re older — what you want to become versus
what you actually became.”
Klapisch doesn’t really call the films a trilogy, and never really warned the
actors that he’d be coming back to them and taking the story further. But they
all signed on. Duris, who turns 40 May 28, was lured back by the parallels he
saw between the script and real life.
“This business of not growing up until you’re 40, that must be universal,
yes? Your decisions and choices have consequences that they did not have at 25,”
Duris says. He plays Xavier, the writer who has split from his Irish wife
(Reilly) but who follows her to New York to be near their children. “At 25,
you’re full of youth and pursuing a career, a lover, but maybe not for life. We
see Xavier making decisions in ‘L’Auberge Espagnole’ that seem, to him, to be
very very important. But we, the audience, know how tiny his problems are, how
insignificant his decisions are.”
Xavier struggles to settle into New York, find an apartment, to master the
moods of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, to raise his kids and meet
the needs of his needy lesbian friend Isabel (Cecile de France) and her
Writing in The Village Voice, Heather Baysa says that “with each of these
movies, Klapisch reiterates a core sentiment behind all the romantic comedy:
that lives are continuously pieced together, broken, and rearranged in different
With each location, the characters — mostly French — cope with a new city
and a new pace of life. From laid back Barcelona, to go go London, the
long-lunches, longer-vacations of Paris, to patience-testing St. Petersburg, the
scene shifts to the City that Never Sleeps — New York.
“They are two cities that dream of each other,” Klapisch says. “Paris dreams
of New York, New York dreams of being more like Paris.”
“The electricity of the streets, that magic energy the city has like no
other,” Duris adds. “When you go out, there’s just something in the air. It was
great to play with that in the movie, the rhythm of the streets, and of the
people, working in Chinatown, wherever. The pace of life is fast in Paris, and
has gotten faster since I was a child. It is the most electric city in France.
But New York? It’s on another level. The whole world is here, young and old, all
these different cultures. And they’re all moving.”
Not that either Frenchman doesn’t prefer Paris, which can be “stimulating,
and yet, peaceful where you don’t hear noise all day and all night,” Klapisch
says. “You can have a long lunch, and long vacations. I love that about the
French life. You can enjoy food more, leisure time more. Maybe the best would be
a mix of the two, half New York, half Paris.”
“Maybe something like Hong Kong,” Duris offers.
Wait, that sounds like another movie. Will we be seeing this quartet again,
at 50? Duris is game. And Klapisch?
“Conceptually, I like following them further, maybe at 50,” he says. “I am
not sure they will have much to tell me then. . But to work with good actors, to follow them in real life as the years pass and they become successes, is a once in a lifetime experience.”