Urban Cinefile
"I saw you singing last month - I bit your ankle - do you remember me?"  -Stranger at a café to Australian singer/actress Maria Venuti
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Sunday July 12, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Harvey (Hugo Weaving) is a slightly neurotic private investigator with an ambition to write crime fiction. On a routine job of ‘follow that adulterer’ he is surprised to discover his girlfriend involved in the hanky panky. Harvey’s best friend, meanwhile, the very married Ethan (David Wenham) befriends a young Jewish Russian, Katia (Natalia Novikova) left stranded at the altar by the death of her intended. To keep Katia legally in the country (and illegally in his bed), Ethan asks Harvey for a favour: marry Katia ‘on paper’. When Harvey reluctantly agrees, Katia takes over his life. And the chaos begins.

"Quirky and delightfully entertaining, Russian Doll epitomises what Australian low-budget films do so well. It's really an old fashioned love story with a twist – ripe with life's ironies and bursting with the colour of its characters. And like all comedy drawn from life, the drama is what makes it funny, especially as it's all played for real. Stavros Kazantzidis has successfully combined different styles and moods, resulting in a deliciously engaging tale where we embrace the characters wholeheartedly and delight as the events unravel, like watching a kitten playing with a ball of wool. Hugo Weaving is compelling as the broken hearted PI, who has seen it all. His hang-dog manner draws us into his world and we empathise with his naivety, sympathise with his loneliness and rub our hands with glee as he slides down the slippery dip of discovery. We hear that a lie is like a little piece of string – it grows to become a noose around the neck. And what a lot of fun we have as that little lie grows and the noose gets tighter. Russian Doll Katia (Novikova) brightens the screen with a zest for life that is totally contagious. Her dazzling smile and larger-than-life personality is an enchanting contrast to Weaving's; together they are irresistible. Like the wooden Russian doll that opens up to reveal its inner layers, she displays the yin and yang of exuberance – the swing of the mood pendulum is unpredictable. Hers is the character that is the catalyst – the charmer that makes the other characters behave as they do. Lovely performances from Rebecca Frith, David Wenham and a seductive Sacha Horler, while the musical choices add humour and satire. Russian Doll sparkles with brio, shimmers with piquancy and charms as surely as sunshine on a clear summer's day."
Louise Keller

"The shadow of Woody Allen hangs over Russian Doll, with Hugo Weaving as a soft-boiled private detective who visits his (anonymous, unseen) analyst at various points through the story. The stylistically retro feel - despite its culturally specific Australian setting and ambiance - is underscored by the soundtrack, which features croony tunes from the late swing era. This resolutely romantic comedy has a freshness and engaging lack of pretension, bolstered by a strong cast - although David Wenham's character seems a little underwritten. Hugo Weaving is entertaining as the bachelor who reluctantly goes through a marriage ceremony to help his best friend's mistress stay in the country (a sort of Green Card arrangement with a Russian doll in Australia instead of a Frenchman in New York) only to find himself falling in love with her despite himself. And despite her. Weaving and Novikova make a well mismatched romantic couple, fighting like Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn used to, opposites who balance each other's excesses."
Andrew L. Urban

“This could just be the Aussie surprise packet of the year - I certainly hope so. While, on one level, Russian Doll covers much the same romantic territory as Peter Weir’s Green Card, this is no simple romance flick. Hypocrisy, depression, alcoholism and betrayal all feature at some stage. While the film is very funny, don’t be surprised if you’re challenged and perhaps unsettled by some of the material here. Like the Russian dolls alluded to in the title, there are little treasures to be found the more layers you get through. Not the least of these are an hilarious supporting turn by Sascha Horler as a lusty émigré and some brilliant cinematography from Justin Bickle. Hugo Weaving is simply excellent in the lead role. In the bruised but unbroken Harvey, he gives a performance of great subtlety and considerable bravery. He’s blessed with strong supports in David Wenham and Natalia Novikova; and with a funny, insightful script. The plot, which could so easily have lapsed into the banal, manages to maintain plausibility (almost) throughout. Stavros Kazantzidis brings a lot of directorial style to the proceedings, building on the promise shown in True Love and Chaos. Russian Doll is one of the best Australian films of recent times and one that deserves wide exposure. It’s not just a delightful romantic comedy, but a film that has a lot to say about how we approach our relationships."
David Edwards

Email this article

Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

See Andrew L. Urban's INTERVIEW with Stavros Kzantzidis and writer Allanah Zitserman


CAST: Hugo Weaving, Natalia Novikova, David Wenham, Sacha Horler, Rebecca Frith

DIRECTOR: Stavros Kazantzidis

PRODUCER: Allanah Zitserman

SCRIPT: Stavros Kazantzidis, Allanah Zitserman


EDITOR: Andrew MacNeil

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Elizabeth Mary Moore

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 23, 2000


VIDEO RELEASE: December 19, 2001

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020