“Russian Dolls,” the strange, scattered follow-up to the 2002 summer-in-Barcelona fable “L’auberge espagnole,” is the rare sequel produced by virtue of creative curiosity rather than commercial necessity. In the film, now on DVD, puppy-dog sex symbol Romain Duris reprises the role that helped build his international career as Xavier, an aspiring writer who moves in with a sextet of students from all over Europe for a semester abroad. The original film was a lightweight, modestly entertaining mix-up of classic tropes of self-discovery, and “Russian Dolls” plays like its cynical older sister, a narrative gimmick that makes for an experiment both charming and cloying at different turns.
In the film, Xavier, our mawkish but endearing hero, is pushing 30, and he feels the age in its every essence. His career has gone nowhere – his first novel remains hopelessly unfinished, and his lone professional writing credit is on a soap opera – and his maudlin romantic pursuits typically end in sex and a quick exit (and not just on his part). He still sees his former lover Martine (Audrey Tautou, a good sport in a nothing role) and sometimes babysits her young son, but rejects her advances when she warms up to him again. With the exception of his sometime housemate, a lesbian, he beds just about every woman in sight, from a superstar model to his old roommate Wendy (Kelly Reilly), and he only seems to get a little more pathetic with each flame.