It’s been eleven years since writer/director Cedric Klapisch first introduced audiences to Xavier Rousseau (Roman Duris) and his ensemble roommates in the comedy L’Auberge Espagnole (2002). Following the success of the Russian Dolls in 2005, Klapisch once again delves into the lives of Xavier and his friends in the third instalment of the Spanish Apartment trilogy with Chinese Puzzle.
Following the breakup of his marriage to Wendy (Kelly Reilly), Xavier moves to New York to be closer to his two children who have been whisked away to Manhattan with their mother and her wealthy partner John (Peter Hermann). Lacking the funds to move into an equally stunning Upper-Westside apartment, Xavier calls upon the aid of his old roommate and best friend, Isabelle (Cecile De France), who lives with her partner Ju (Sandrine Holt) in all-too trendy Brooklyn.
Xavier then finds illegal work as a bike currier, tries to write a new novel, is pursued by and overly proficient immigration officer, donates sperm to Isabelle and Ju ‘s quest to conceive a baby, is visited by a slew of long-dead German philosophers, and finally, attempts to secure a green card through a hoax marriage. Oh, and old faithful to the Spanish Apartment films, Martine (Audrey Tautou), pops up somewhere in there to become a love interest.
Moving at an equal speed to the plot is the editing and cinematography of the picture. Like the previous films, both seem employed by an almost frantic pacing. In the hands of a lesser group of filmmakers this could be the recipe for disaster, but Klapisch and his crew do a fantastic job of corralling the whirlwind plot-points of Xavier’s with life with a proficient rapid-fire approach to the filmmaking.
One of the key strengths of the series so far has been it’s casting; and the ensemble’s ability to create that genuine feeling we share between friends. While there is the notable absence of Wendy’s brother, William (Kevin Bishop), who all but stole the first two films in his short scenes, fans will rejoice to see their favourite housemates reunited.
Like it’s namesake, Chinese Puzzle contains a plethora of ideas, story-lines and characters; and like it processors, does an admirable job putting them all together come the final credits. While the picture certainly stands up alone without having watched the pervious films, it solidifies our love for Xavier and his cast of merry men. For fans of the series so far, Klapisch’s latest offering is a must. For newcomers, you’ve got some homework to do.
Chinese Puzzle is in Australian cinemas from 17 April through Transmission Films.