“Chinese Puzzle” is one of those truly cosmopolitan films that features so many spoken languages that there is no place it can be shown without subtitles. Mostly in French and English, there's also some Spanish, and I think there might even be some Chinese in there somewhere. In some scenes, one character is speaking English and the other French. I found it exhilarating!
This film is also the third in the Spanish Apartment series. The first film, 2002's “The Spanish Apartment,” introduces Xavier (Romain Duris), a young Frenchman who shares the titular apartment in Spain with other young students during a very formative semester. --Spoiler Alert-- 2005's “Russian Dolls” catches up with Xavier, who has become a writer, as he reunites with some of his friends from the apartment for a wedding in Russia. He and Wendy (Kelly Reilly), the student from London, wind up falling in love.
“Chinese Puzzle” (2013) picks up the story 8 years later, as Xavier and Wendy's relationship is falling apart. Wendy takes their kids and moves to New York to be with another man, and Xavier, now a somewhat successful writer, follows them. He crashes there with his old Spanish apartment roommate Isabelle (Cecile de France), who is a lesbian, but with no legal way to stay or work in New York, he has to scramble to create a life there, where he can be near his kids. Meanwhile, his old girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou) comes to visit.
I thought it would be awkward watching “Chinese Puzzle” without having seen the first two films, and I probably did miss out on some subtext related to these characters' long, dynamic history. Nonetheless, the story stands well on its on. It's a hilarious and genuine continuation of Xavier's story. Reading about the other films in this series, it strikes me that this is just a really long coming-of-age tale, the point of which is that you never truly come of age. Xavier's story doesn't end when he achieves this or that goal, or when he falls in love. Life continues to throw new challenges at him, and, with his huge heart, he keeps adapting to them, embracing the changes.
4 stars out of 5