By Kate Smith
14th April 2014

A French film about life’s little complications, ‘Chinese Puzzle’ is the kind if film that should appeal to everyone. I liked this movie within 10 seconds – the opening titles were brilliant– but if you don’t speak French, or you're not a fan of subtitled films, should you still give it a go?

The film follows Xavier (Romain Duris), a Parisian writer, bemoaning the “fucking mess” his life has become. He’s instantly relatable, and his situation of separated father needing to be near his kids is one easy to empathise with. He follows his ex-wife Wendy (Kelly Reilly, ‘Sherlock Holmes’) when she moves his kids from Paris to New York to be with her new boyfriend. Xavier’s insights into the differences between his culture and the “New World” of America, particularly during the awkwardness with Wendy’s new man, are very funny.


Xavier’s best friend Isabelle (Cécile De France) has already moved to the Big Apple with “her chick”, and Xavier, as the donor father of the couple’s baby, becomes integrated into their lives. Adding to Xavier’s mess is his ex-girlfriend, Martine (Audrey Tautou), who wants to rekindle their relationship. Charming cartoons, and Xavier’s daydream philosophical conversations fill us in on the details of these relationships.

The film jumps about a bit, bouncing between Xavier’s present and past, but it’s easy to follow, and strengthens the story. While we’re not sure where the film is taking us, it’s fun getting there. Like Xavier’s move to America, it’s an adventure.

The film jumps about a bit, bouncing between Xavier’s present and past.

New York itself plays a part, as does the American legal system with the randomness of the city introducing Xavier to a solution to his visa problem. We’re treated to some great shots of Central Park, and the less shiny side of the city in Chinatown and Brooklyn. All the characters are at least bi-lingual, switching between French and English as easily as breathing. The soundtrack is also cross-continental and thoroughly enjoyable.

There’s just the right amount of poignancy in ‘Chinese Puzzle.’ It never gets too heavy, and there are some adorable laugh-out-loud moments. Xavier’s publisher encourages him to embrace his unhappiness, as that makes for better writing, but Xavier can’t help but chase a messy sort of joy. He makes some mistakes along the way, his moral compass wavers a little, but there’s a sweet ending to it all, despite the publisher’s protests that happy endings are boring.

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