You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

London Film Review: ‘Chinese Puzzle’

Cedric Klapisch's zesty New York-set follow-up to 'L'auberge espagnole' and 'Russian Dolls' serves as a seductive advertisement for modern urban living.


Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cecile de France, Kelly Reilly, Sandrine Holt, Margaux Mansart, Pablo Mugnier-Jacob, Flore Bonaventura, Amin Djakliou, Clara Abbasi, Li Jun Li, Sharrieff Pugh, Peter McRobbie, Jason Kravits, Peter Hermann, Benoit Jacquot. (French, English, Mandarin, Spanish dialogue)

Eleven years after his Franglais smash “L’auberge espagnole” and eight years after sequel “Russian Dolls,” French writer-helmer Cedric Klapisch follows up with the zesty “Chinese Puzzle,” a New York-set comedy that serves as a seductive advertisement for modern urban living. Retaining the energy and zing of the earlier films but dialing down the youthful angst, the pic delivers witty, sexy fare that’s the fast-food equivalent of Richard Linklater’s thematically weightier “Before … ” trilogy. Given the presence of international marquee names including Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou, its appeal to auds isn’t tricky to puzzle out.

While “L’auberge” was largely set in Barcelona, at an Erasmus educational program that mixed students of different nationalities, and “Dolls” pinged characters across various European cities, this time the action unfolds almost wholly in New York City. That’s where Englishwoman Wendy (Kelly Reilly) shacks up with her new American beau (Peter Hermann), taking the two young children (Pablo Mugnier-Jacob, Margaux Mansart) she had with French partner Xavier (Duris). He follows from Paris in hot pursuit, initially moving in with their old Belgian pal Isabelle (Cecile de France), who lives in a spacious, funky Brooklyn loft with her Chinese-American girlfriend Ju (Sandrine Holt). Cozily, Isabelle is pregnant thanks to a sperm donation from Xavier.

By no means short of narrative incident, “Chinese Puzzle” successfully keeps multiple balls in the air, including tensions between Wendy and Xavier over their offspring’s schooling; Xavier’s green-card marriage to the Chinese-American niece (Li Jun Li) of a taxi driver he rescues after a road-rage episode; Xavier’s apartment hunt, bicycle-courier job and Skype sessions with his Paris-based book editor over the progress of his new novel; Isabelle’s affair with a pretty babysitter (Flore Bonaventura); and most of all visits by another Erasmus alumnus, Xavier’s old flame Martine (Tautou), who has two young children of her own (Amin Djakliou, Clara Abbasi).

Bringing an appreciative outsider’s perspective to the sights, sounds and polyglot energy of New York, Klapisch and his collaborators ensure that the two hours whiz by decoratively and entertainingly, buoyed by the jazzy, soulful, vocal-driven score of Christophe Minck and Loik Dury, both returning from “Russian Dolls.” Playful devices, including the fantasy appearances of famous European philosophers imparting words of wisdom, work well in the mix, and there’s a well-executed comic setpiece in which Tautou unleashes her fluent Mandarin to a roomful of Chinese investors.

Modern life may be complicated, but it’s nothing to get stressed about: That’s the alluring message this time around, and the film benefits from the more relaxed mode achieved by these maturing characters. In real life, none of the actors have reached the age (40) that’s suggested by the script, indicating a generosity of spirit on their part that chimes with the film’s contagious mood. Neatly climaxing with a conventionally upbeat romantic-comedy pairing, Klapisch’s freewheeling story now seems to have arrived at its natural conclusion. Stellar box-office receipts — France and Belgium are set to go first, on Dec. 4 — could dictate otherwise.

London Film Review: 'Chinese Puzzle'

Reviewed at London Film Festival (Laugh), Oct. 19, 2013. Running time: 120 MIN.


(France) A Ce Qui Me Meut and Studiocanal presentation of a Ce Qui Me Meut, Studiocanal, France 2 Cinema, Panache Prods., La Cie Cinematographique, RTBF (Television Belge) co-production, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cine Plus, France Televisions, France 4, Belgacom, in association with La Banque Postale Image 6, Cinemage 7, CN2 Prods. (International sales: Studiocanal, Paris.) Produced by Bruno Levy, Cedric Klapisch. Executive producer, Raphael Benoliel. Co-producers, Andre Logie, Gaetan David, Buzz Koenig


Directed, written by Cedric Klapisch. Camera (color), Natasha Braier; editor, Anne-Sophie Bion; music, Loik Dury, Christophe “Disco” Minck; production designers, Roshelle Berliner, Marie Cheminal; art director, Matteo De Cosmo; set decorator, David Schlesinger; costume designers, Anne Schotte, Lee Harper; sound (Dolby Digital), Cyril Moisson, Cyril Holtz, Damien Lazzerni; visual effects supervisor, Cedric Fayolle; stunt coordinator, Jeff Gibson; line producers, Raphael Benoliel, Carol Cuddy; assistant directors, Antoine Garceau, Yann Sobezynski; casting, Ann Goulder, Gayle Keller, Jeanne Millet.


Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cecile de France, Kelly Reilly, Sandrine Holt, Margaux Mansart, Pablo Mugnier-Jacob, Flore Bonaventura, Amin Djakliou, Clara Abbasi, Li Jun Li, Sharrieff Pugh, Peter McRobbie, Jason Kravits, Peter Hermann, Benoit Jacquot. (French, English, Mandarin, Spanish dialogue)

More Film


    China Box Office: ‘Bumblebee’ Flies on to $138 Million Total

    “Bumblebee” flew to its third weekend of dominance in China. But the Chinese box office remains in lackluster mode at the start of 2019. The spinoff from Paramount’s “Transformers” franchise earned $16.1 million in Chinese theaters between Friday and Sunday, according to date from exhibition and distribution consultancy Artisan Gateway. That was a 38% drop [...]

  • Mara Watkins Nabhaan Rizwan Steven Wouterlood

    Diverse Talents Pepper Variety's Fifth 10 Europeans to Watch List

    Variety has unveiled its fifth edition of 10 Europeans to Watch, spotlighting 10 rising talents from across the continent who are poised for breakthroughs in 2019. The selection includes emerging actors, directors, showrunners and cinematographers from six countries whose dynamic talents are being showcased on screens big and small, and on both sides of the camera. [...]

  • Glass Movie

    Box Office: 'Glass' Shines Overseas With $48.5 Million Weekend

    After autobots and aquatic kings have dominated foreign markets over the past few weeks, a different kind of hero has risen to the top of box office charts. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is the new champ overseas, pulling in $48.5 million from international territories. The supernatural thriller, a sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2016’s “Split,” debuted [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    'Roma' and 'The Favourite' Lead London Critics' Circle Winners

    After ruling the U.S. critics’ award circuit, “Roma” continued its dominance on the other side of the pond, as the London Film Critics’ Circle announced its winners tonight. A week after landing seven BAFTA nominations, Alfonso Cuarón’s Mexico City memory piece landed film of the year and director of the year honors from the group [...]

  • M. Night Shyamalan Should Stop Writing

    The Big Twist M. Night Shyamalan Needs: He Should Stop Writing His Own Scripts (Column)

    Quick, name the greatest film by each of the following directors: Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, David Lean, Robert Altman, Roman Polanski, Kathryn Bigelow, Jonathan Demme. Answers will vary (mine would be: “Psycho,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Nashville,” “Chinatown,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The Silence of the Lambs”), but whatever your taste, odds are that [...]

  • Andy Vajna Dead: 'Rambo' Producer and

    Andy Vajna, 'Rambo' Producer, Dies at 74

    Andy Vajna, executive producer of several “Rambo” films as well as “Total Recall” and several “Terminator” movies, died Sunday in Budapest after a long illness. He was 74. The Hungarian National Film Fund confirmed his death, calling him a “dominant figure in the Hungarian and international film industry” who was responsible for the development of [...]

  • Glass trailer

    Box Office: 'Glass' Dominates MLK Weekend With $47 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” topped box office charts during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, collecting $40 million over the weekend for a four-day sum of $47 million. If estimates hold, “Glass” will come in behind “American Sniper” ($107 million) and “Ride Along” ($48 million) as the third-best showing for both January and MLK holiday [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content