If there's a Spanish equivalent to the films of Richard Linklater they would be Cedric Klapisch's 'Spanish Apartment' series- 2002's L'Auberge Espagnole and 2005's Russian Dolls. Equal parts charming and infuriatingly madcap, they nonetheless are impossible to resist because, darnit they are just so darn cute, earnest, and Euro in their explorations of hipster romance and professional aimlessness. Thankfully, Klapisch doesn't screw with the formula in the breezy and jazzy Chinese Puzzle, a fitting good-bye to the characters whose lives we've been following for years.
Or perhaps it's not so much a good-bye as a "see you later"? Like Linklater's Before Sunrise trilogy, there's an enduring quality to the romantic entanglements of professional adolescent Xavier (Roman Duris), who has settled into his novelist career. His love life has only gotten more complicated as he approaches midlife crisis age, and Xavier continues to excel at making things worse despite well-meaning intentions. In an effort to stay a part of his kids' lives he up and moves from Paris to New York after his wife (the returning Kelly Reilly) relocates. Culture shock abounds but Xavier gets plenty of help from a few familiar faces. Klapisch has wisely paired down the overly large cast of the prior movies to focus on a small group of favorites, and one of those coming back is Xavier's lesbian best friend, Isabelle (Cecile de France). She's shacked up with a beautiful American (the gorgeous Sandrine Holt) and they desperately want Xavier to help them have a child. Things only get more difficult when Xavier's former flame Martine (Audrey Tautou, last seen with Duris in Mood Indigo) arrives in town with her kids and old passions are rekindled, although neither cares to admit it.
Most of the humor is basic fish-out-of-water stuff as Xavier deals with the high cost of living in the big city, encounters with unfamiliar ethnicities, and women of course. The ladies in Xavier's life, of which there are many, pull him in many different directions but we also see how screwed he would be without any of them. They make him a better man, and it's a pleasure to see a film that doesn't marginalize the female characters in the least. Between Xavier's novel, imaginary conversations with long dead German philosophers, and an impromptu marriage for American citizenship, there's a lot to contend with and Klapisch sometimes gets lost in the subplots. But even if Chinese Puzzle is a little bit messy it's pretty much what these moves were always meant to be and why many will be hoping Xavier's misadventures in love aren't over yet.
Chinese Puzzle is playing now in Washington, D.C. at the Angelika Pop-Up Theater at Union Market.