Chinese Puzzle – Film Review

Chinese Puzzle

I’m not always completely up to speed with the films I watch as I try to not see all films having watched every trailer and speculative news article. Because of this I went to see Chinese Puzzle at last years London Film Festival knowing only that it starred Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris, and that I had enjoyed their work in the past both together and apart.

The film started by showing images of the cast when they were younger and slowly it dawned on me; they were all taken from the film I had seen Tautou and Duris in before. Without realising it I was watching a sequel to 2002’s French/Spanish film Pot Luck or The Spanish Apartment. The original film had shown an international group living together in Spain and Chinese Puzzle picks up the trail in New York over a decade later. I was a little confused at first as to how this had slipped me by but settled down to enjoy the film smug in the knowledge that I had at least seen the film that came first.

Chinese Puzzle - 1

Naturally I was wrong about this too. Researching the film later on I discovered that Chinese Puzzle was not really a direct sequel to The Spanish Apartment but actually the third film in a trilogy with Russian Dolls sitting in the middle. I still have yet to see Russian Dolls but at least it explained why I couldn’t quite remember everything the characters were referring to having happened in the past.

With this addled mind of mine and my failure to navigate a simply trilogy correctly perhaps I not the best person to review the film for you. Perhaps you deserve someone who has the wherewithal to watch three films in the order intended. Or perhaps you are like me and haven’t seen both, or either, of The Spanish Apartment or Russian Dolls and need to know whether you can still enjoy this English/French/Spanish/Chinese/Yiddish comedy drama. I sincerely hope the latter is true.

Chinese Puzzle - 2

All confusion aside I did enjoy Chinese Puzzle. Tautou and Duris are infinitely watchable, as are their returning co-stars Cécile De France (Belgian funnily enough) and Kelly Reilly. The film has a strong streak of drama running through while serving up a strong dollop of comedy to boot. Xavier (Duris) and Wendy (Reilly) are now divorced and she has taken their children to live with her new partner in New York. Not wanting to be away from his family Xavier follows them there and a culture clash comedy ensues as he moves not just to New York but to Chinatown. Meanwhile Isabelle (De France) is also in the Big Apple with her girlfriend Ju (Sandrine Holt) and struggling to stay faithful and Martine (Tautou) comes to visit and causes Xavier to think back on their old romance.

Chinese Puzzle has a lot of threads to follow and relies a little on you being able to grasp what is going on without it being told to you explicitly. I certainly benefited from having seen The Spanish Apartment and probably could do with seeing Russian Dolls to fill in the blanks. If you can cope with this minor inconvenience then what you are left with is a sweet and enjoyable comedy that isn’t afraid to move from emotional drama to comedic farce.

Good fun, if a little confusing for someone who doesn’t even realise they’re watching a sequel. If writer/director Cédric Klapisch continued with this pleasant international comedy franchise I certainly would not complain.

Chinese Puzzle is in UK cinemas from tomorrow.

Pot Luck – Audrey Tautou Retrospective #4

PotLuck

L’Auberge espagnole, The Spanish Apartment, Pot Luck. Ms Tautou has a small part to play in this film but she is just one of many zesty flavours brought to the table in this buffet of youthful self-discovery and hopeful escapism.

Multi-lingual and multi-national, Pot Luck follows Xavier (Romain Duris) as he moves to Barcelona to study in the ERASMUS programme. Upon arrival he crosses paths with students and citizens from across the globe as they explore and share friendship, love and the cleaning rota.

Styled very bizarrely to begin with, Pot Luck buzzes around, flipping forwards and backwards in time, distracting us with add-ons to the screen, speeding up first person long-takes and narrating very morosely. It takes a while to get into before you realize that director Cédric Klapisch’s cinéma vérité-ish opening is simply getting us to realize how irritating Xavier’s restricted, pre-determined life is before he ups and leaves.

Anybody who has left for college, travelled the globe or simply shares a house with strangers will find something to love in Pot Luck. As a Northerner who lives in a house with a Ukrainian, a Londoner, a Swiss-Algerian, a Polish woman and an Irishman, I can honestly say that the film’s perpetual comedic bickering and cultural exploration feels very true to life, and its endless self-written-to-win debates would give Aaron Sorkin wet dreams.

Populated with not-sexy-not-ugly actors there are enough relationships and life lessons here to fuel a television series. Whilst the film’s over-arching heart and narrative lie in Xavier’s journey, the rich host of characters that pop up and dilemmas that occur are non-stop fun. Whether it’s Xavier’s realization that he’s fallen for a lesbian and a housewife whilst he still has the clingy Audrey Tautou back in France, or the housemates’ deliberation of how to best select a new housemate, the film’s simultaneously micro and grand scale dramas are  easy to watch and envy; it’s not hard to see why a second film was made and a third is on the way.

A film that lives up to its title, Pot Luck is a great mish-mash of different characters and outlooks on life and it encapsulates all that there is to being a hopeful young adult. Fueled by vivid colours, lively music and plenty of comedy and romance, it forces you to reassess your own life. Look at these guys, living the dream. It really makes you wish that you’d change something; that you’d make some spur of the moment decisions; that you’d give yourself a slap, get out of the house and off the compute…