Xavier's life is turned upside down when his wife Wendy announces she's moving to New York and taking the kids. A few months later, he's on a transatlantic flight as well. From fathering a child to a lesbian couple, to marrying a Chinese-American to obtain citizenship, to reigniting a flame with his first love who comes to visit, Xavier and his world really do seem like a Chinese Puzzle...
Drawing together philosophical, romantic, personal and international themes under the same umbrella narrative is a feat few film makers could successfully pull off, however, in the third part of his trilogy (which began in 2003 with Spanish Apartment and was followed two years later by Russian Dolls) director Cedric Klapisch not only achieves this but does so with a wonderful and infectious sense of whimsy and charm that few can master even without the thematic challenges.
Telling the story of 40-something divorcee Xavier (Romain Duris) Chinese Puzzle is set across continents as he attempts to secure a green card in order to follow his ex-wife to New York where she has relocated with her new beau and Xavier’s two children. However, if this were not difficult enough, an intimately personal request from his lesbian best friend and the reappearance of his ex-girlfriend with her children make Xavier’s life even more complicated.
I needn’t tell you more about the film’s story as in a way it isn’t really that important, what is most integral to Chinese Puzzle is the characters and the strange, interconnecting nature of their relationships.
With some truly great performances and utterly brilliant casting choices Chinese Puzzle is an absolute delight; Duris is perfect as Xavier, once again capturing the insecurity and uncertainty of the men in Klapisch’s earlier features but with a maturity and, arguably, even more potent sense of the confused self. The juxtaposition of the three women in Xavier’s life, his ex-wife Wendy (Kelly Reilly), ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou) and best friend Isabelle (Cécile de France) is both narratively and visually perfect whilst their individual performances are also excellent.
With a fun and utterly appropriate ending Chinese Puzzle is wonderful from start to finish, mirroring itself in it’s narrative, characters and themes whilst simultaneously highlighting the constantly shifting and juxtaposing nature of ageing and humanity.