Frequently writers rely on “Webster or Oxford” to crush the roadblocks stymieing mental acuity, a cowardly crutch; but as I watched “Chinese Puzzle” laughing uproariously, surrounded by a modestly mute audience, surreptitiously looking at me, questioning my tenuous grip on reality; it struck me with tsunami velocity that “humor” is profoundly subjective. So, like a multitude before me, I checked “humor” in the dictionary: funny, jest, ludicrous, satire, a plethora of words but none that nailed or encapsulated the essence of ticklish, farcical, hilarity; humor is personal, some have a “sense” of it, others don’t; but laughter is infectious and the ultimate emotional cure for glumness; “Chinese Puzzle” is a slice of life that is real, warm and in two scenes its tentacles squeezed to the breaking point, my funny bone.
The final chapter in director/writer Cedric Klapisch’s trilogy (“L’Auberge Espagnole”, “Russian Dolls”); protagonists are now approaching forty: “Xavier” (slight, scruffy, scintillating Romain Duris) a modestly successful novelist, he moves from Paris to New York to be close to his children; Kelly Reilly, as ex-wife “Wendy”, flimsy character development lends minimal substance to the film; Cecile deFrance is absolutely exhilarating as “Isabelle” pregnant, philandering, positively enhancing every scene. But the force and glory of the film revolves around Audrey Tautou’s portrayal of “Martine”, one-time lover of Xavier; vacationing, she nestles, along with her two children, in Xavier’s tiny domicile, in the epicenter of Chinatown. Tautou’s impeccable comedic timing rests comfortably with the stars.
Clever use of animation and imaginative conversations with philosophers: Hegel, Erasmus, Schopenhauer, add to the light-hearted gaiety and the hectic pace of the narrative; but what sealed my admiration was the empathetic, endearing relationship between Xavier and his children (“Lucas” and “Jade”); love, kindness, understanding ooze tenderly with their every encounter.
I will see this film again, solely for the mood it put me in!
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!