Sunday, May 04, 2014

“Chinese Puzzle”– Movie Review




This weekend, my movie class had a bonus screening of the new French romantic comedy “Chinese Puzzle”, written and directed by Cédric Klapisch. 


When a wife leaves her husband, she moves from their home in France to live in New York City with their children – but after the father relocates to New York City to be with them, can he adapt to this new culture?


About to turn 40, Xavier (Romain Duris) finds his life increasingly complicated.  After a decade of marriage to Wendy (Kelly Reilly), she chooses to leave him, moving from their home in France to New York City, where she met a man during a recent business trip.  To make matters worse for Xavier, she brings their son and daughter along with her.  Distraught over not being able to see his kids, Xavier decides to move to New York City also in order to care for them and be able to watch them grow.  A novelist, Xavier is so overwhelmed by his life that he titles his latest book, “Chinese Puzzle” because it’s so intricately complex. 

In addition to his two children with Wendy, Xavier has also donated sperm to his lesbian friend Isabelle (Cécile De France) so she and her partner Ju (Sandrine Holt) can conceive.  When Isabelle and Ju move to New York City as well, they allow Xavier to temporarily stay with them until he finds a place of his own – which eventually turns out to be Ju’s tiny, run-down old apartment in the Chinatown section of downtown Manhattan.  Wendy and the children, on the other hand, are now comfortably ensconced in the expansive Central Park South apartment of her wealthy new boyfriend. 

As Xavier and Wendy prepare to divorce, he hires the cheapest lawyer he can find; his advice to Xavier is to get a job and get married so he can remain in the country.  Desperate, Xavier takes a job as a bicycle messenger in Manhattan; as far as the wife is concerned, he cashes in a favor and marries the daughter of a man whose life he saved.  Martine (Audrey Tautou), Xavier’s first wife, comes to New York City on a business trip; when she sees him again, it is apparent that they’re still in love with each other.  Later, when Martine comes back for a vacation, she stays in Xavier’s tiny flat.  Slowly, Xavier realizes he needs Martine back in his new life.  But can Xavier’s situation stabilize to the point where he can convince Martine to live with him in New York City?


If you’re in the mood for some light entertainment that’s something of a French version of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” combined with the television show “Modern Family”, then “Chinese Puzzle” might be for you.  The key word here is “might”.  Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t stack up terribly well when compared to “Manhattan” (there’s even a foot chase scene at the end where Xavier pursues Martine before she returns to France much like Woody Allen’s character chased after Mariel Hemingway before she traveled to Europe). 

Another problem I had with “Chinese Puzzle” was the translation.  The movie contains subtitles and I don’t think it was well translated – or at least not by someone familiar with idioms in standard American English.  There are a few lines which seemed a bit stilted in their wording.  One example is a scene after Isabelle gives birth to her baby; Xavier tells someone that Isabelle contacted him to stop by the hospital to “recognize” the infant.  The term “recognize” was used a couple of times and it had me scratching my head a bit.  Also, the opening credits are overdone; watching them almost gave me a headache.

Although I characterized “Chinese Puzzle” as a romantic comedy, it is probably closer to a comedy-drama.  There aren’t too many quotable lines from the movie, nor are there a number of laugh-out-loud scenes; there are a few silly situations that sometimes border on the farcical (e.g., when the agent from the Immigration And Naturalization Service surprises Xavier by suddenly showing up at his apartment to see if his marriage is a sham), but despite its overall light-hearted tone, there are quite a few serious moments as well.  While “Chinese Puzzle” might not be one of those run-out-and-see-it-immediately types of flicks, it might be well-served as a rainy-day rental instead. 

Chinese Puzzle (2013) on IMDb  

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