Love and Diversity in a New York “Chinese Puzzle”
By Skip Sheffield
Adorable French actress Audrey Tautou brightens every movie she is in. She is the shiniest part of a quartet of 40-something characters in the screwball romantic comedy, “Chinese Puzzle,” written and directed by Cedric Klapisch.
Tautou is just a supporting player- Martine, an ex-girlfriend- in the life of procrastinating novelist Xavier Rousseau (ingratiating French actor Romain Duris). Xavier's life is coming unraveled near his 40th birthday. Xavier is already divorced from Wendy (Kelly Reilly), his British wife of ten years, but he remains civil for the sake of their two children, with whom they share in joint custody.
“I have a Point B Problem,” he muses glumly. “I always keep changing direction.”
The direction changes again when Wendy finds a new love, and decides she wants a fresh start. So she abruptly takes the children from Paris and moves in with the rich, handsome new guy in his fancy New York City apartment overlooking Central Park.
Xavier is understandably upset, and rather than simply giving in, he decides to pull up roots and move to New York. This of course is easier said than done, as we see in his long and humorously futile search for an apartment he can afford. He finally finds a tiny flat in Chinatown.
The fourth element of the quartet is Isabelle (Cecile de France), a platonic friend of Xavier’s. Isabelle is a lesbian who lives with her girlfriend in New York and allows Xavier to stay temporarily.
The Chinese part of the equation is Ju (Sandrine Holt), a Chinese-American woman who agrees to “marry” Xavier (he had rescued her father from a beating) so he can get a green card and works legally in the USA.
"Chinese Puzzle” is the third and final part of a trilogy that began with “L’Auberge Espagnole” in 2002 and continued with “Russian Dolls” in 2005. The same quartet of actors plays in all three films about love and life. This one is by far my favorite because it is a both love note to New York City and all its diversity and complexity and an ode to love found again, starring winsome Audrey Tautou and handsome, humbled Romain Duris.