‘Chinese Puzzle’: A sweet conclusion to a 20-year trilogy
“Chinese Puzzle,” the final installment in Cedric Klapisch’s trilogy begun with “L”Auberge Espagnole,” rejoins the characters, now in their 40s.
Seattle Times movie critic
‘Chinese Puzzle,’ with Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile de France, Kelly Reilly, Sandrine Holt. Written and directed by Cedric Klapisch. 117 minutes. Rated R for sexual content, nudity and language. In English and French, with English subtitles where necessary. Seven Gables.
Like an art-house “Harry Potter” franchise for grown-ups, French filmmaker Cedric Klapisch’s warmhearted trilogy follows the same characters over a period of years. In 2003, “L’Auberge Espagnole” introduced us to an international group of college students, living in happy squalor in a Barcelona apartment. “Russian Dolls,” released in 2006, showed us (mostly) the same group, now approaching 30. And now (time goes a little faster in Klapisch’s movies than in real life, apparently), in “Chinese Puzzle,” they’re turning 40; settling down, raising kids, figuring out the lives they want.
At the center of the story is Xavier (Romain Duris), a French novelist who, early in the film, moves to New York to be near his ex, Wendy (Kelly Reilly), and their two children. She’s one of several women who form a busy chorus around Xavier; a circle that also includes Martine (Audrey Tautou), another ex and now a single mother, and Isabelle (Cécile de France), a lesbian friend now happily partnered with Ju (Sandrine Holt). All have now known each other for two decades, and have reassembled in New York; their lives are entwined and connected like puzzle pieces.
“Chinese Puzzle” is a likable, meandering film, much like its main character, complete with moments of whimsical creativity (such as an animated rendering of Xavier’s previous life, and a drop-in appearance by a long-dead philosopher) and a French-flavored “When Harry Met Sally” shout-out at the end. New York, with its crowded sidewalks, endless clamor, and ever-changing colors, becomes a character and a home — which is what Xavier, at 40, is seeking. His life, with its changing partnerships, bleeds into his novel; his shabby apartment is, slowly, transformed into a haven.
With generosity to all of his characters, Klapisch finds an ending that’s the perfect goodbye, as the cast takes one last walk in the sunshine. “When you find happiness,” Xavier says, closing the trilogy on a sweet note, “there’s nothing more to say.”
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org