Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Cedric Klapische
Stars: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cecile De France, Kelly Reilly, Sandrine Holt, Peter McRobbie, Jason Kravitz, Pablo Mugnier Jacob, Margaux Mansart
This is the final film in writer/director Cedric Klapische’s romantic trilogy about a group of
international friends and their complicate personal relationships that began with The Spanish
Apartment in 2002. In that film we met fresh faced French student Xavier (Romain Duris) who
moved into an apartment block in Barcelona, and we followed his romantic entanglements with
girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou), lesbian best friend Isabelle (Cecile De France) and Wendy
(Kelly Reilly). That was followed by Russian Dolls in 2005, when Xavier had a reunion with the
same friends in St Petersburg. He was then a struggling writer and his life was still something of a
mess. Now thirteen years after The Spanish Apartment Klapische brings the series to a close.
The film is set in New York, and explores the trials and tribulations of an outsider adjusting to life
in a strange and unfamiliar city, a theme that will resonate strongly with many in the audience.
Xavier’s exwife has left him for an American and moved to New York with their two children Tom
(Pablo Mugnier Jacob) and Mia (Margaux Mansart). After a while Xavier decides to follow her to
New York to maintain that connection to his children. But to stay in the US on a visitor’s visa he
needs to enter into an arranged marriage.
But Xavier’s life is just as complicated. He tries to write a novel exploring why his life is such a
mess and doesn’t neatly flow from Point A to Point B. And as he talks about the book to his editor,
a series of flashbacks fills us in on his complicated life. This is what life is like at 40, and reality
slowly sinks in.
We learn how he provided a sperm donation so that his lesbian best friend Isabelle could have a
child with her partner Ju (Sandrine Holt, from 24, Hostages, etc); how a visit from Martine and her
two children generated sparks again and holds out hope for a new life; and how he had to
convince the immigration services (in the nononsense persona of Peter McRobbie) that his
marriage to Chinese girl was genuine.
There is an episodic quality to events in Chinese Puzzle, but Klapische juggles the many narrative
strands with dexterity. In one of several flights of fancy that permeate the material Klapische even
uses a German philosopher to illustrate how life is like a piece of embroidery one one side it is
neat and colourful, but it is also a mess with lots of different strands when viewed from a different
perspective. Some situations may seem familiar from films like Green Card, but here there is a
much more mad cap, slapstick sensibility at play.
As with Russian Dolls, the opening credit sequence here juxtaposes each main character with
images of them from the previous two films, a quick and effective method of introducing us to
these familiar characters and reminding us of the complex connections between them. The
ensemble cast is great. Duris has a genial and likeable presence even though his character is still
in many ways immature and Xavier seems unable to get his act together. Tautou has a positive
and winning presence in a slightly underdeveloped part here. De France also has a strong
Jason Kravitz is fine as Xavier’s down at heels lawyer who advises him on how to circumvent the
immigration laws and remain in the US while he writes his book and gets his life in order.
Chinese Puzzle has been beautifully shot on location in New York, and Natalie Braier’s
cinematography captures the rich textures and multicultural nature of the city, and makes the city
very much a character in the film itself.
This is a sweet, whimsical and light but nonessential film with which to conclude the trilogy that
began over a decade ago… or is it? Is there more life in these likeable characters yet? A fourth
film in the series would not be unwelcome if Klapische was interested in revisiting Xavier and his
friends, and their rich tapestry of life again.