Review Comedy drama
CHINESE PUZZLE (R21)
118 minutes/Opens tomorrow / ***½
SINGAPORE - The story: The follow-up to The Spanish Apartment (2002) and Russian Dolls (2005) continues with the story of Frenchman Xavier (Romain Duris) and his friends. He and Wendy (Kelly Reilly) have split up and she moves to New York from Paris with their two children. Xavier then heads for the Big Apple as well where his lesbian friend Isabelle (Cecile de France) is raising a child with her partner. He later reconnects with his ex, Martine (Audrey Tautou), who has two children of her own. Along the way, for the sake of a visa, Xavier gets hitched to a Chinese-American woman.
Meeting an old friend after a long time apart can be a fraught affair. Can you pick up where you left off? Will the conversation still flow easily? Have they changed? Have you?
In Before Midnight (2013), it was a pleasure meeting Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) again and seeing where they were nine years after Before Sunset (2004) and 18 after Before Sunrise (1995).
Add to that list of happy reunions writer-director Cedric Klapisch's Chinese Puzzle. We first met Xavier in The Spanish Apartment (2002), a young Frenchman in Barcelona on the brink of adult and working life and figuring his way forward with the help of a group of friends from all over Europe.
In Russian Dolls (2005), the setting moved to St Petersburg where Xavier and his friends fall in and out of love.
And now, pushing 40, he is at yet another crossroads as life takes him to bustling Chinatown in New York and he has to take stock of his relationships with his ex-partner, children, friends and old lover, while keeping his publisher in Paris happy.
Romain Duris has shown his versatility as an actor, including his turn as a thug in the compelling The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005), but he will always be remembered for playing Xavier.
He brings an easy charm to the highly self-aware and articulate character, someone who can be indecisive and passive at times, but ultimately has his heart in the right place.
The other actors slip easily into their roles as well, from Audrey Tautou (Amelie, 2001) as the older and wiser Martine to Cecile de France (Hereafter, 2010) as the butch Isabelle, settling down with a partner and baby and yet still behaving irresponsibly like a child.
Whatever their flaws and foibles, it is clear that Klapisch has great affection for this group of friends. Apart from depicting their relationships with one another with honesty, warmth and gentle humour, he also tackles bigger themes of globalisation and culture through the trajectory of the three films.
There is a playful visual flair in Chinese Puzzle that elegantly conveys the frenetic vibe of New York City and lends the film an engaging energy of its own. It all culminates in a welcome bit of farce as the various plot situations all come colliding together.
Life can be complicated and never linear, as Xavier grouses, but he and his friends have also shown us that it can be a glorious mess filled with laughter, light and love.
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