Xavier’s (Romain Duris) life gets unexpectedly complicated when his ex-wife announces her decision to move to New York with their kids. After some soul searching Xavier decides to follow his family, since it will allow him to see more of the child he fathered with his lesbian friend Isabelle (Cécile De France). In New York, Xavier realises that his life is rather like a Chinese Puzzle; complicated, and often hard to fit together.
We have seen New York on the big screen so many times, that it is hard to imagine a film that allows us to see the city in a new light. Chinese Puzzle, surprisingly, is that film, as Xavier – and the audience – gets to see one of America’s most famous cities through the eyes of a non-English speaking, foreign character.
Romain Duris makes our lead character Xavier a man the audience can relate to. In no way a bad guy, Xavier’s life is turned upside down when his wife leaves him, and again when she decides to move to New York. Duris’s performance plays up the complicated issues that life throws at us; making the character a man bewildered by the direction his life has taken. Duris is warm and sweet, and carries the film with ease.
Cécile De France as Isabelle, is the complete opposite to her friend and fellow parent. De France makes Isabelle confident and sure in all of her actions, which means she becomes a great contrast to Xavier. Audrey Tautou turns up as Xavier’s old flame Martine, and strips away any fluffy whimsy from her character, instead playing Martina as a real, strong and warm woman. Kelly Riley suffers slightly in her role as Xavier’s ex-wife Wendy, mainly because she speaks English in response to the other characters’ dialogue in French. An odd choice that doesn’t always work.
Cédric Klapisch’s screenplay shines a bright light on the notion that we really have very little control over our lives, especially the actions of others and the impact this can have on us. Despite – or perhaps because of – this, the screenplay for Chinese Puzzle manages to stay light and funny without ever becoming ridiculous. Dream and animated sequences help to make the film feel familiar, but rarely derivative.
As director, Cédric Klapisch has coaxed some beautifully natural performances from his cast, and although there are times when unnecessary characters are brought into proceedings, on the whole, Chinese Puzzle is well paced and engaging.
Chinese Puzzle is a funny and heartfelt look at the lack of control we have on our lives, and how sometimes, this can be the best thing for us. Romain Duris carries this story of life and love effortlessly, and Cédric Klapisch keeps the pace, drama and comedy nicely balanced.