Cédric Klapisch’s final piece to his Spanish Apartment trilogy (after 2002’s Pot Luck and Russian Dolls in 2005) is a heartwarming comedy about friends and a celebratory end to these character’s stories. Like all great film series, the stories not only follow different snapshots of the characters lives over time but also remind the audience that the cast has grown and evolved with a series like this. 12 years ago the names, Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou were not universally known (although Tautou had garnered attention from 2001’s Amelie) but today they are two of the world’s most recognisable and popular French exports. So to come back to Klapisch’s story and characters is a huge feat in itself and one that most certainly pays off in the end.
Ten years have passed since the events of Russian Dolls and Xavier (Duris) is happily married to Wendy (Kelly Reilly) or at least he thinks he is. He has two children with her, is a full time published author and lives in Paris alongside his best friend, Isabelle (Cécile De France). But Chinese Puzzle is a story of renewal and hope for the future as the group are all approaching 40 (a recurring joke throughout the film). Isabelle is in love with Ju (Sandrine Holt) and they want to have a baby together, but when Isabelle asks Xavier whether he would give her sperm, a larger chain of events is set into play, which eventually force Wendy to leave Xavier and pack her life along with the kids off to New York City where she has fallen in love again. With his creativity now severely lacking, Xavier needs to find a new muse and a new inspiration for his next book.
Through a tightly woven and neat chain of events, a now pregnant Isabelle and Ju are living happily in New York and their latest house guest, Xavier has decided to move his entire life across the world so that he can always see his children. Of course, as an audience who were aware of the first two parts of the trilogy will know, wherever Xavier goes, trouble will find him. After not quite settling into the NYC lifestyle, Xavier needs to find something that will earn him money and find somewhere of his own to live so that his kids can come and stay with him but when his immigration status is thrown into question, he needs to find someone and quick to ensure he stays around.
This does seem like enough for one person to deal with but when Martine (Tautou) turns up in city asking for someone to stay with, it seems like Xavier is back to square one and perhaps he may find the love of his life in the woman that never really left him.
Klapisch’s film is an ode to love, friendship and enjoying your life – alongside his colourful direction, his screenplay is just as witty, sharp and quick as before. The scene in which Xavier meets Wendy’s new lover is hilarious; he is a typical American who thinks speaking slowly and loudly to the Frenchman will help him understand. After a moment it just becomes hysterically awkward and as with Klapisch’s best writing, we go inside Xavier’s head to see what he really thinks. One other sequence, which is just divine is down to the set up – Isabelle has been having an affair with the younger babysitter and is using Xavier’s place to do it but Ju actually owns the apartment. When Ju gets a call telling her that immigration officers would like to meet her at the apartment to ensure she knows Xavier, he has to get back to the flat before her and kick Isabelle and her lover out. But of course there is more, he has to pretend Martine is a the European nanny (a lovely Spanish reference back to the first film) when she returns to the flat with her kids and Nancy (Li Jun Li), Xavier’s fake wife, needs to get there on time! It’s truly one of the most brilliantly witty sequences in recent cinema and highlights the talent of those taking part.
As to be expected after so long performing together; the main cast of Duris, Tautou, De France and Reilly is brilliant. The group has such wonderful chemistry that watching them on screen just brings a smile to the face of the audience. They brilliantly bounce off of each other and their comic timing is down to a tee (despite the fact that these performers have become famous mostly for drama!).
Feel good and fabulous, Chinese Puzzle is a comedy that will always put you in the right mood. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the other two in the trilogy (although they are highly recommended as well), this is a not so subtle reminder that you can find love when you really aren’t searching for it.