Starring Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou & Cecile De France
Writer/Director Cedric Klapisch and his Franco-English ensemble cast reteam to tell the next chapter in The Adventures of Xavier in the breezy and fun Chinese Puzzle.
2002’s Pot Luck introduced us to the romantic misadventures of postgraduate student Xavier (Duris) studying in Barcelona, we met up with him again in 2005’s Russian Dolls juggling work and romance in London, Paris and St Petersburg. We return to Xavier and his colourful gallery of friends, lovers, family and colleagues eight years later to find our euro-tripping romantic a fish-out-of-water in New York and in pursuit of his estranged wife (Kelly Reilly).
Being complete noob to Klapisch’s work, and so the previous entries of this freewheeling relationship saga, proved not a hindrance at all to understanding and enjoying this comedy romp. On paper a story about a guy who chases after his estranged wife who moves to another country with his kids sounds like a very heavy movie but Klapisch brightens the tone and makes it bouncy by finding the absurdity in the serious by dropping culture lash zingers as well as deploying fantasy sequences done for the lolz such as Xavier talking to the ghosts of German philosophers and getting comedy wisdom from them which gives it a very early Woody Allen sensibility to it. He takes painful life moments from such a quirky, humorous angle that you register the pathos without feeling walloped by it.
What I also admired about it was that the camaraderie between the cast was totally palatable. They had the intimacy of old friends because, through the course of filming the series, they actually were. This series is a hell of a lot lighter than, say, Linklater/Delpy/Hawke’s ‘Before’ series and very cinematic but even though it gives off the air of frivolity and has a very French view on love (i.e: loose) it’s quite deep
Pot Luck used a student flat inhabited by a Frenchie, Brit in Spain to celebrate EU harmony, the second film extended it to include the burgeoning Russia and this third film takes it global by its American setting and host of Chinese characters. Could this be a series promoting world harmony?
Chinese Puzzle is an enjoyable, brilliantly cast and visually inventive film that see-saws between slapstick and melodrama. If you can put up with the running time (just under two hours), it’s a feelgood romp for lovers of eccentrically told cinema and Francophilles alike.