Making it in New York: asphalt, skyline and “Chinese Puzzle”

Life is complicated, and in the case of Xavier (Romain Duris), a successfulish Paris writer, it is more so. In writer/director Cédric Klapisch’s “Chinese Puzzle” [1] (2014), Xavier struggles to deal with the following:

  • His wife Wendy (Kelly Reilly) leaves him, taking their children to New York to live with her new man.
  • He comes to New York because he cannot stand being apart from his children. He has no job, he needs to get a job, but he cannot legally work in the States.
  • His old girlfriend, Martine (Audrey Tautou), also comes to New York.
  • He is the father of his lesbian friend Isabelle’s (Cécile De France) baby. Isabelle is raising the baby with her Chinese-American girlfriend Ju (Sandrine Holt).

Did I mention Xavier’s life is complicated? To further muddle up the plot, he marries a  Chinese-American woman so he can get U.S. citizenship to stay in the country. The fake wedding will also help him better fight for legal authority over his children’s lives.

(image credit: Puzzle)

I actually wouldn’t recommend the movie (I get it, four women can make life very complicated for anyone). The plot is too twisted, too filled with issues that were scratched only on the surface and not explored. It is a blessing that Xavier is played by Duris, whose disarming smile makes his otherwise unflattering character likable. What are do love are scenes of the city as well as Xavier’s observation of New York. As he hit the asphalt as a bike messenger, he ruminates:

Pinned to the ground, you see that New York’s obsession is the sky. The image NYC sells is the skyline, skycrapers, penthouses, rooftops. All anybody cares about is reaching for the sky. In reality, the city’s split in two. When you first get here, you can’t be part of the “up” world. You live in the “down” world. You live downtown. You have no right to the sky. You gotta work your way up from the bottom.

As an E. B. White-esque “settler” and newish New Yorker, I agree with him completely. After all, we flock to rooftop bars chasing skyline.

[1] “Chinese Puzzle” is the last part of a trilogy that include movies “L’Auberge Espagnole” (2002) and “Russian Dolls” (2005). Xavier, who spends most of his time outside of France pursuing life, liberty and romantic fulfillment, was in Barcelona, then St Petersburg and finally, now pushing 40, he has arrived in Manhattan (specifically Chinatown).

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