Xavier (Romain Duris), a 40-year-old father of two finds life too complicated. When the mother of his two children, Wendy (Kelly Reilly) moves to New York, he can't bear them growing up far away from him and follows them to the Big Apple. But of course, it's all very complicated for him. His lesbian best friend Isabelle (Cécile de France) asks him to donate sperm so she and her partner Ju (Sandrine Holt) can have a child, and his divorced ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou), turns up with her two children. All the while Xavier is trying to work around the complicated US immigration system to get a green card so he can work.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A decade earlier, Xavier (Romain Duris) was sharing a Spanish apartment (in Barcelona, to be precise) with the characters who turned up in St Petersburg (in Russian Dolls, 2005) and now here in New York, two of them as his exes from the past. Wendy (Kelly Reily) his ex-wife and Martine (Audrey Tautou) his ex girlfriend. Isabelle (Cecile de France) was never his ex: she's a lesbian and still a good friend, close enough to ask him to be the biological father for a baby she and her chick Ju (Sandrine Holt) wish to have.
And de France is outstanding, delivering a free spirited and likeable character, neatly sidestepping any fake lesbian signaling; a mature version of her previous characerisations. Indeed, all the cast comes up trumps, in what is a wonderful ensemble performance. Kelly Reilly is superb, nuanced and complex as Wendy the ex-wife who still has a soft spot for Xavier, as does Martine - and Tautou shows us her enduring appeal in romantic comedy roles. Romain Duris has refined and enlarged what was always a terrific screen presence, his insecurity convincingly evolved into maturity, and Sandrine Holt gives a subtle but memorable performance as Isabelle's chick, Ju.
Cédric Klapisch has returned to the characters who were embraced by audiences then, exploring how their lives have changed as they approach 40, an age Klapisch knows well, having been there over a decade ago himself. He also calls upon a couple of ghosts of philosophers past by way of texturing Xavier's uncertain self-inquisitions. This whimsy works well enough, but isn't used to maximum effect.
The screenplay tackles a purposeful complexity as its thematic rock, propelling the drama with the wings of comedy. Deceptively charming, Chinese Puzzle has something to say in an accessible and entertaining manner.
Review by Louise Keller:
Time has passed and circumstances have changed, but the sense of upbeat fun that Cedric Klapisch first created in Spanish Apartment (2003) and Russian Dolls (2005) continues in this third film of the trilogy about a young man's search for his dreams. There is a new country but traces of the old ones come too, creating a beguiling confluence of French, American, English and Chinese, all of which bring an extra dimension to the film's textures. With an ex-girlfriend, an ex-wife, two children and a complicated relationship with a lesbian, the stakes might be higher now and the obstacles more tricky, but the uncertainties, mysteries and wonders of love are just the same.
Xavier (Romain Duris) is running - at the beginning and the end of the film - but for very different reasons. At the start he is contemplating why his life is such a mess, acknowledging his difficulty navigating from Point A to Point B. As far as his New York editor is concerned, happiness is a disaster for fiction and as Xavier is about to start writing his novel Chinese Puzzle, he is not unhappy that his client's marriage to Wendy (Kelly Reilly) has broken up. Klapisch uses stylised flashbacks to fill us in on what has been happening in Xavier's life - since his break up with Wendy who has relocated to New York with a new man, his continuing amicable relationship with his former girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou) and the intimate commitment he has made with his lesbian friend Isabelle (Cécile De France) and her half Chinese partner Ju (Sandrine Holt).
Klapisch develops some good ideas, like the German philosopher's description of life being like embroidery: the first half is pretty like the front, while the second half shows how the threads fit together. The gimmicks are effective too: like girls from the girlie magazine jumping from the page in the scene when Xavier is about to make a sperm donation. The narrative jumps lithely and smoothly through the various plot points that include an unconscious Chinese taxi driver, a marriage of convenience, frog kissing, getting laid and a baby-sitter who delivers a few surprises.
The ensemble cast, headed by Duris is superb and the fact that Tautou, Reilly and De France (as well as other supporting talents) are so different, works to the film's advantage. Klapisch pulls out all stops for the grand finale, a hilarious scenario in which all the story strands are woven together with compounding zest and good humour. Life spins like unruly clothes in a New York Laundromat as the race for the finish line begins and everything comes to a head. The search for happiness is great fun in this comedy of errors whose excesses and exaggerations are countered by keen observations and emotions that are grounded in reality.
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CHINESE PUZZLE (M)
CAST: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile de France, Kelly Reilly, Kevin Bishop, Sandrine Holt
PRODUCER: Cédric Klapisch, Bruno Levy
DIRECTOR: Cédric Klapisch
SCRIPT: Cédric Klapisch
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Natasha Braier
EDITOR: Ann-Sophie Bion
MUSIC: Loik Dury, Christoph Minck (aka Kraked Unit)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Roshelle Berliner, Marie Cheminal
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 17, 2014