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With: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, C残ile de France, Kelly Reilly, Sandrine Holt, Margaux Mansart, Pablo Mugnier-Jacob, Flore Bonaventura, Amin Djakliou, Clara Abbasi, Li Jun Li, Sharrieff Pugh, Peter McRobbie, Jason Kravits, Peter Hermann, Benoit Jacquot
Written by: C仕ric Klapisch
Directed by: C仕ric Klapisch
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, nudity and language
Language: French, English, Mandarin, Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 117
Date: 05/23/2014

Chinese Puzzle (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Melting Pot

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Cedric Klapish's Chinese Puzzle completes a trilogy begun by L'Auberge Espagnole (2002) and Russian Dolls (2005), capturing the lives of several friends and lovers from their days as students to their days as parents. As a whole, the series isn't as profound as Richard Linklater's Before... trilogy or Michael Apted's Up documentaries, but it does have a lovely, infectious lightness of touch. It probably has more moments of silly, enjoyable fun than the rest of those more profound works put together.

Yet Klapisch's skill should not be underestimated. Chinese Puzzle is a complex film with many characters and storylines, and at 117 minutes, it runs quite a bit longer than it feels. It feels breezy and organic, never forced.

Here's an example of what we're dealing with. So Xavier (Romain Duris) and Wendy (Kelly Reilly) are divorced with two kids. Wendy decides to move from Paris to New York to be with a new man she's met, and she's bringing the kids. After some soul-searching, Xavier decides to start a new life there, too, to be near his kids. Luckily, his old pal Isabelle (Cecile De France) already lives there, in an enormous Brooklyn apartment, with her girlfriend Ju (Sandrine Holt). While Xavier begins the soul-sucking hunt for his own apartment, Isabelle asks him if he'd like to be the surrogate father to Isabelle and Ju's baby.

Meanwhile, Martine (Audrey Tautou) comes to New York on business and winds up sleeping with Xavier, more out of convenience and comfort than anything else. Xavier has the occasional argument with Wendy, meets another single father, and speaks to a lawyer about his rights. Isabelle develops a strong crush on a young babysitter and begins an affair. And, last but not least, Xavier agrees to marry a Chinese-American woman -- he met her uncle during a road-rage incident -- for green card purposes.

The movie even has one of those ridiculous "French drawing room" scenes in which everyone shows up in the same place at the same time, wherein various lies are exposed and/or expounded upon, but it's handled with a sunny joy rather than strained levity. Another near-miracle this movie pulls off is that it's focused on a writer character, Xavier, who actually does stuff, rather than sitting back, watching his friends, and recording it like most other movie writers.

Chinese Puzzle develops a good New York atmosphere, and expands the "melting pot" theme of the entire series. (The first movie's title means "Spanish apartment.") Characters come from all walks of life, and yet they somehow manage to respect one another and empathize with one another; no one mistrusts or judges anyone based on race or culture. Though the problem of prejudice in this old world is hardly over, this movie suggests that we have come a long way in a relatively short time.

Ultimately, this movie won't really make you think about life much, but it will make you feel warm and fuzzy about visiting with some very good-looking, and very nice, old friends.

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