Chinese Puzzle Movie Review
French filmmaker Cedric Klapisch keeps the tone light and the serious themes just under the surface as he revisits the lively characters from The Spanish Apartment (2002) and Russian Dolls (2005). Despite its comical plotting, the film remains grounded in real life, this time in an ethnically blended corner of New York City as the characters turn 40 and face major life changes. It's a relaxed, enjoyable romp that sometimes feels rather silly but continually catches the whiff of an important issue.
Our hero Xavier (Romain Duris) is living in Paris, exhausted by the surprises life won't stop throwing at him. The latest shock comes from his girlfriend Wendy (Kelly Reilly), who announces that she's taking their children (Pablo Mugnier-Jacob and Margaux Mansart) and moving back to Manhattan, where she plans to live with another man. Stunned, and knowing he can write anywhere, Xavier follows her and moves in with his old pal Isabelle (Cecil De France) and her girlfriend Ju (Sandrine Holt) in Brooklyn. Perhaps now Xavier might also be able to be in the life of the child he has helped Isabelle conceive to raise with Ju. So he finds a woman, Nancy (Li Jun Li), who will marry him so he can get an American visa. Then his ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou) comes for a visit, sparking old feelings that complicate everything.
Yes, the scene is set for a wild farce of a final act as Martine, the immigration investigators, Isabelle and Ju and a variety of kids all converge on Xavier's new Chinatown flat. This wacky slapstick gets rather grating, since there are so many more interesting places this film could have gone, but it's funny and very nicely played by the cast of shamelessly charming actors. Each portrays a person who is incapable of making the most important decisions in their lives, which gives the film a loose sense of authenticity even if the events feel rather contrived.
Duris anchors everything with a complex, charming performance that combines irresponsibility with loyalty: it's easy to see that he cares deeply about his family and friends, regardless of the chaos he causes in his wake. And the actresses are terrific too. Tautou and De France are the comic relief, acting impulsively but never out of dodgy motives. So it's up to Holt and Reilly to provide the earthier touches as more thoughtful, measured women.
In the end, the film never quite gets around to dealing with some of its bigger ideas, but at least they are gurgling constantly in the background. Issues of blended families, cultural diversity, child custody and immigration law are brushed aside by the amusing finale. But Klapisch has a generous eye with his camera, beautifully catching the ethnically mixed lifestyle of any large city, where you find your family in the varied people around you and call it home.