Director: Cédric Klapisch
Screenwriter: Cédric Kaplisch
Cécile de France
Li Jun Li
Runtime: 120 mins.
Australian release date: 17 April 2014
Chinese Puzzle (Casse-Tête Chinois) is the final chapter of an interesting trilogy that includes The Spanish Apartment (2002) and Russian Dolls (2005). In Cédric Klapisch’s latest film, the principal characters, all of whom appeared in the two previous films, are reunited, now reaching 40 (heaven forbid!) and coming to terms with their ‘adult’ lives, having relocated to the gloriously visual New York City. The main character, Xavier Rousseau (Romain Duris), has made the move primarily to create a smooth passage from A to B, so he can be in regular contact with his children, as his ex-partner Wendy (Kelly Reilly) has left Paris with the kids in tow to start a new life with a new man in the Big Apple. But Xavier has always had trouble travelling smoothly from A to B. Klapisch even refers to the film series as “The Trilogy of Xavier’s Travels.”
Xavier is confronted with the difficult task of finding somewhere to live even though his best friend Isabelle (Cécile De France) offers him the couch in the huge Brooklyn loft she shares with her girlfriend Ju (Sandrine Holt). Isabelle thinks it will be fun to hark back to the time they lived together in The Spanish Apartment but Xavier has matured and insists on getting a place of his own. Conveniently for him, Ju owns an empty apartment in Chinatown, thus solving his problem. The fact that he is also the sperm donor/father of the women’s soon-to-be-born baby adds to the complexity of his personal puzzle. Furthermore, Xavier is trying to complete his latest novel and spends a bit of time on Skype to his editor in Paris, who is of the opinion that a good novel should not have a happy ending. And guess whose life the novel is mimicking? Ah, such is life.
Once settled, he is contacted by his old girlfriend, Martine (Audrey Tautou), who arrives in NYC and ends up staying at his place. Martine is impossibly cute and it is anyone’s guess as to whether their renewed relationship will develop into something more intimate. Xavier is also pretty adorable and is obviously still much loved by all three of the women in his life, Wendy, Isabelle and Martine. And to complicate matters further he’s married Chinese-American Nancy (Li Jun Li), in order to get US residency! As the story evolves, the pieces of his crazy life start to fit together and he begins to see point B appear hazily in his future. It is interesting to experience what feels like a Woody Allen yarn being so perfectly executed by a French director.
Chinese Puzzle is a very watchable film from the fabulous locations through to the skilfully acted performances. The characters are a diverse lot and their dilemmas, although slightly off-kilter, reveal a realistic modern-day urban drama. Christophe Minck’s and Loïc Dury’s soulful music creates an atmosphere that beautifully encapsulates the story. Klapisch and DOP Natasha Braier’s complicated approach to colour and framing brings a non-touristy New York to vibrant life - enough so that you want to buy a ticket and head for that most exciting of cities. And you are kept guessing to the very end as to whether the outcome will be good or bad for Xavier and his friends and lovers but, even though the frenetic pace at times appears slightly slapstick, at no time does Klapisch’s script lose the plot. There’s method to his madness and he has said, “The movie required experience and reflection, because the idea underpinning it isn’t frivolous, it’s weighty - it’s about bringing depth to the story. The first films were about the impulsiveness of youth. This one had to tackle the notion of maturity.”