CHINESE PUZZLE Hebrew title: ‘Paris Pinat New York’ Written and directed by Cedric Klapisch With Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cecile De France Running time: 117 minutes In French and English.
Check with theaters for subtitle information.
The film Chinese Puzzle, the third in Cedric Klapisch’s series about a young Frenchman trying to make his way in the world and the friends he meets on his journey, is a lowkey, enjoyable movie, a mixture of comedy and drama, with a bit of soap opera thrown in.
Xavier (Romain Duris, one of the sexiest men in European film) started out as an aspiring writer in his late 20s in L’Auberge Espagnole (2002), which was released in the US as Europudding, and followed his adventures as he went to study in Barcelona for year. Audrey Tautou played his Parisian girlfriend Martine in the original film; Cecile De France was Isabelle, his lesbian friend; and Kelly Reilly played Wendy, a British student.
In Russian Dolls (2005), the less successful sequel to Europudding, Xavier and Wendy collaborate on a project and fall in love.
Now the basic crew from the previous films – Xavier, Wendy, Isabelle and Martine – are back, but the action has shifted to New York.
Francois Truffaut was an obvious influence on director Cedric Klapisch (whose film When the Cat’s Away, about a young woman searching for her lost cat with her quirky neighbors in a funky Parisian neighborhood, is worth watching on DVD). But while Truffaut would often use a deceptively light, rambling tone to tell a unique, deeply touching story, there is nothing new in Chinese Puzzle. However, the characters are so charming and attractive, the New York setting is photographed to bring out its grungy glamour, and the screenplay is literate and sometimes funny, so it is fun to watch.
When Chinese Puzzle opens, Xavier and Wendy are married and living in Paris with their two children. Both are approaching 40. Xavier is a celebrated novelist, and Wendy is successful enough at whatever she does that they can live in a gorgeous apartment – this movie should carry a triple X rating for real estate porn – but for no discernible reason, the spark is gone from their marriage. When Wendy announces that she has met a man on a business trip to New York and wants to take the children and move there to be with him, Xavier simply says yes and looks pained. If he had refused, there would have been no movie, so he follows the family to New York. Wendy is living in a spectacular apartment with a view of Central Park with her new boyfriend, a hulking businessman who must be very rich.
The film’s main subplot is that back in Paris, Xavier donated sperm to Isabelle so that she and her Chinese-American girlfriend (Ju) could have a baby and move to the Big Apple. In New York, he crashes in their spectacular Brooklyn apartment that has a view of the East River and wonders what to do with his life.
He has a series of philosophical Skype conversations with his publisher about the new, apparently autobiographical, novel he is writing. A stereotypically hard-boiled American lawyer advises him to arrange a scam marriage so he can become a US citizen and stay in the country, and he ends up in one with the daughter of a Chinese cab driver whom he helped out after a car accident. Ju arranges for him to get a funky and welcoming apartment in Chinatown (also improbably large for someone who does not seem to have much income), and his wanderings through the neighborhood, along with the idea he is trying to figure out how the parts of his life fit together, give the movie its title.
He gets a job as a bicycle messenger, and he muses about New York as he rides around without a helmet because a helmet would make his strategically mussed-up hair look less fetching.
Martine, his old girlfriend, now an organic tea entrepreneur who speaks Chinese at a business meeting, comes to New York for work. Will they rekindle the spark? Will he finish his novel? These questions won’t generate much suspense as you gaze on the lovely actors and apartments, but that doesn’t mean that Chinese Puzzle isn’t enjoyable escapism.