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Arts and Culture Sunday, Jun. 22, 2014 1 year ago

FILM REVIEW: 'Chinese Puzzle'

by: Pam Nadon Contributing Columnist

"Chinese Puzzle" is the third installment in director Cedric Klapisch's trilogy about a man navigating life amid its innumerable complications. And the good news is that you need not catch the first two to thoroughly enjoy this fluffy romp. But odds are you will want to do so.

Xavier (Romain Duris) is a Frenchman whose life is in turmoil. On a trip to New York his wife, Wendy (Kelly Reilly), falls in love with another man, wants a divorce and is taking their two children to Manhattan. After agreeing to donate sperm to his best friend, Isabelle (Cecile de France), and her partner, Ju (Dandrine Holt), Xavier hightails it to the U.S. in an attempt to be with his family.

Xavier discovers that life in the Big Apple isn't cheap. Although his career as a novelist is beginning to show promise in France, his editor is pushing an imminent deadline for his next novel. Isabelle and Ju have also moved to New York City, and Ju allows Xavier to live at her old apartment in Chinatown. It's a dump, but he's short on cash and takes it. He gets a job as a bike courier, which he refers to as "guzzling asphalt."

Getting a divorce is also a huge expense, and his sleazy lawyer suggests he marry an American to gain U.S. citizenship. In an ironic twist of fate, Xavier saves the life of a Chinese-American cab driver who insists on repaying him by setting him up with his niece to obtain a green card marrige. Things are beginning to look up for Xavier.

Suddenly, his old girlfriend, Martine (Audrey Tautou) shows up at his door, and, soon after, unexpected sex ensues. Martine hopes for them to reconnect, but he can't envision the needed "spark" required to rekindle the affair. Xavier's life, once again, "is a mess."

"Chinese Puzzle" is a hilarious melange of silly slices of life guaranteed to evoke uncontrollable giggling. Klapisch ("Russian Dolls" "L'auberge Espagnole") inserts fantasy conversations between Xavier and famous European philosophers as well as exquisite animation to further the fun. A sassy score and brilliant cinematography that captures the soul of New York City immensely add to the charm of this delightful film.

In the end, Xavier finishes his book, but his editor finds the "hideous happy ending" quite surprising. Xavier, himself, is astonished at how, at last, his life has become so completely and utterly sublime.

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