"makes use of some quirky storytelling features and the characters are charming"

Chinese Puzzle is a funny drama in classic Cedric Klapisch style. It makes use of some quirky storytelling features and the characters are charming but on the whole the film is not as dazzling as the title might assume. 

Main character Xavier (Romain Duris) is back on the screen for a third movie in a trilogy that started with L’Auberge Espagnole and later Russian Doll. Xavier is still wearing sneakers and a shoulder bag, looking like a film student in his late twenties. But this time he is facing more grown-up dilemmas such as divorce, sperm donation and fatherhood.

When his wife (Kelly Reilly) leaves him and takes the children from his native Paris to live in New York, he decides to pack his bags and try to find himself a life in the big apple. From there the story chugs along with funny little episodes and events, not really leading anywhere but entertaining all the same.

The environment of New York plays second fiddle to the relationships of the characters but the apartment of Xavier’s lesbian ex is stunning, with a rooftop painted in graffiti and a precious view of Manhattan from across the Brooklyn Bridge. 

The occasional quirky features, such as when Xavier’s fantasies come alive were hilarious; he is visited by (long dead) German philosophers in wigs and he turns into a man with a ruffled shirt and a pirate hat at some point to visually demonstrate the frustrations of communication barriers. It made the classic drama-comedy something fresh. In my opinion he didn’t exploit this wacky humour and imaginative storytelling techniques enough. I guess he wanted to keep the film safely in the mainstream fold.

Sometimes I was starting to lose interest because ironically, like it is proclaimed at the start of the film, there is no sense of direction in the film, no A→ B.  He seems to manage his dispersed social life with the finesse of an origami artist. Xavier and all the people in his life are a bit too calm and open-minded for the Chinese Puzzle effect to really become exciting. Having that many ex-girlfriends and pretend-wifes in your life at the same time could have been a lot messier...

The cast is terrific and I think those who usually seek out the work of Cedric Klapisch or Audrey Tautou will not be disappointed with this set of characters. The film is a cute take on the so-called “modern-family’’ and the chemistry between the actors is sparkling. Perhaps it’s beyond the point, but it’s the fastest I’ve ever seen anyone run in a romantic comedy. Hopefully this is not the last film after three so far and the relay race about these cosmopolitan friends continues into yet another era.