"Chinese Puzzle" is a charming French film directed by Cedric Kalapich. It is the third chapter of the Spanish Apartment trilogy after L'Auberge Espagnole (Pot Luck) and Russian Dolls. The movie brings back the same cast and the story stands by itself as a complete film.
Forty-year-old novelist Xavier Rosseau (Romain Duris) finds the amour cooling in his marriage to Wendy (Kelly Reilly), the mother of his two children. They are separated. Then to make matters worse, he's been asked by his lesbian friend, Isabelle (Cécile de France) to donate his sperm so she and her partner can have a baby. While he had his wife's consent, this only helps to hasten a deteriorating marriage.
Then his wife unloads another bombshell, announcing that she found someone else, moving to New York and taking the children with her. Xavier life is falling apart and in a heartbreaking scene, he says goodbye to children at the airport.
In a bid to be closer to his children, he decides to go to New York too. He stays with his friend Isabelle and her lesbian partner Ju (Sandrine Holt) until his finds an apartment of his own. At his wife's apartment, he has an awkward meeting with her new love, an understanding, rich, and attractive man. How can he compete with that? When his wife arrives, she tells him she's starting divorce proceedings. Then he finds out his kids are going to a very posh school where they have to wear uniforms. This upsets him more.
Ju finds him a small apartment above a Chinese bakery and there he makes a home sleeping on a floor mattress. He now has a job paid under the table working as a bicycle messenger. His discount lawyer tells him he can buy himself a citizenship through marriage for about $ 50,000, maybe $ 20,000 if he's lucky.
There are visitations with his kids and on one occasion, he is over an hour late picking them up. He doesn't 'tell her the reason, probably because she wouldn't believe him. In flashback, we see him riding in a taxi, and caught in traffic jams. A truck driver unloading boxes becomes irate when the cabby asks ask him to quit blocking the roadway. A fight ensues with the cabby beaten with a baseball bat. Xavier breaks up the fight and drives the cabby to the hospital. The cabby asks Xavier how he can repay him. Xavier says he can find him an American wife. It just so happens his cousin standing bedside is available.
The sham marriage takes place with all the supporting photos that they are together and happily married. Immigration interviews them to verify the marriage and things do not go well. There are suspicions.
Maritime (Audry Tatou), an old girlfriend arrives in New York on a business trip conferring with a Japanese company. She stays at his apartment where they share a bed and have torrid sex. They still have feelings for each other and this is another complication in his life.
Near the end of the movie, complications escalate to a frantic pace when all the women in his life congregate at his cramped apartment when immigration is making a surprise inspection. The scene is filled with close calls and "Just Abouts" that border on farce. It's a hilarious sequence, and nicely configured. This is a charming story of a man trying to solve of puzzle of his life. It's an amusing, witty, and sexy comedy well worth seeing.
Reviewed at the American Film Market, Santa Monica, California. In French and English with English subtitles.
CREDITS: Chinese Puzzle (Casse-Tete Chinois) stars Romain Duris, Audry Tatou, Cecile De France, Kelly Rielly and Sandrine Holt. Directed / Written by Cedric Minck, Producer – Bruno Levy, Composer – Christophe Minck, Production Designer – Roshelle Berliner, Anne-Sophie Bion – Editor. Filmed on location in Paris and New York. Run time 117 Minutes. Not yet rated. Release Dates: France 12-4-13, Germany 01-02-14