Monday, May 12, 2014

Third time at the well is the best: Klapisch's look-at-them-now trilogy capper, CHINESE PUZZLE

One of our favorite French filmmakers, Cédric Klapisch, shown below, is back in town with the third in the trilogy that began with L'Auberge Espagnole, continued with Russian Dolls, and now finds his characters at around the 40-year-old mark in his newest chapter, CHINESE PUZZLE (Casse-tête chinois).

In some ways, Klapisch's trilogy is not unlike the "Before" series of Richard Linklater -- but French, rather than American; with only twelve instead of 18 years between first and third chapters; and a larger cast of main characters. This latest installment is every bit as good as the earlier two -- maybe better -- and a wonderful addition to the story of Xavier Rousseau (played by Romain Duris, below) and how he and his friends have grown and changed over the dozen years since this trilogy began. Has M. Klapisch grown looser, freer and more improvisational, one wonders? Seems that way to me, which makes this movie all the more enjoyable and lighthearted, even though its themes -- aging, parenting, responsibility -- are certainly weighty enough. But the filmmaker understands that growth is something you can't hurry. It comes in its own way and arrives in its own good time.

The trilogy, also like Linklater's, has taken place all over the globe. This time, much of the movie transpires in Brooklyn, where Xavier has come to live and work so as to be close to his two children by his now estranged wife (Kelly Reilly, below, second from right). Coincidentally, his lesbian friend Isabelle (Cécile de France, below, left) is now living in New York along with her new pal Ju (the gorgeous Sandrine Holt). Into the picture also arrives another old friend/flame, played by Audrey Tautou (below, right). Together these terrific characters (and actresses) keep the pot boiling and our Xavier on the run.

In terms of plotting, there's an almost screwball-comedy effect working here, and much of the movie is laugh-out-loud funny, as well as all too real in terms of problems involving everything from immigration to love. Chinese Puzzle seems even more alive and energetic than the two preceding films – which is saying something, since the characters are now in their 40s. 

Despite its very sophisticated opening credit sequence, the movie has a homemade look that doubles as a kind of reality provider. And while Klapisch covers territory often trod, he manages to give it all his own special style and wisdom. Note how a porno magazine connects to life in what is certainly the most creative jack-off scene in a fertility clinic yet caught on film (more likely, these days, on video).

If this is indeed the best of the trilogy, this is as it should be (trilogies always should get better from film to film). Events here are off-the-cuff-real yet cleverly constructed for cohesion and a constant forward thrust. Best of all, Klapisch finds something solid and true within the messiness of modern life and love.

And don't  worry if you have not seen the earlier movies in the series. I think this one stands on its own quite nicely. Once viewed, however, it'll probably send you back to the two former films.

Chinese Puzzle -- from Cohen Media Group, in French and English, with English subtitles (as needed) and running 117 minutes -- hits New York City this Friday, May 16 (At the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema) and in the Los Angeles area on May 23 (at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5). 

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