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Trailer: Chinese Puzzle

A 40-year-old father of two, still finds life very complicated. When the mother of his children moves to New York, he can't bear them growing up far away from him and so he decides to move there as well.

PT1M5S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-36db3 620 349

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Reader rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (74 votes)

"I'm turning 40 and I've ruined my life,'' laments Xavier (Romain Duris), and anyone who has followed the French writer through The Spanish Apartment (2002) and Russian Dolls (2005) would nod with Gallic diffidence, for you would expect nothing less from the philosophical protagonist of Cedric Klapisch's romantic comedies about the vagaries of life, love and geography.

It is not necessary to have seen the previous instalments, if only because the long scenes that establish why Xavier's misfortunes now have a New York City postcode provide both short and long-term background. In short, Wendy (Kelly Reilly), his wife of 10 years, has left him after their marriage soured, taking their children to her new partner in Manhattan, leading Xavier to relocate in order to remain close to his kids.

Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris in <i>Chinese Puzzle</i>.

Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris in Chinese Puzzle.

Most of the ensemble cast returns. Isabelle (Cecile De France), Xavier's lesbian friend, who is carrying a child conceived with his sperm, lives in New York with her partner Ju (Sandrine Holt), while Martine (Audrey Tautou), his girlfriend from the 20-something escapades of The Spanish Apartment, comes to visit.

''Happiness is disaster for fiction,'' Xavier's editor warns him, but Klapisch cannot help but dangle the possibility in front of his hero. It helps that Duris is such a gifted but unobtrusive leading man.

Ever since the psychological duress of The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005), one of his darkest roles, the French star has had an expressive lightness of touch. He can segue from melancholy to pleasure, from hopelessness to experience, adding an emotional texture that Klapisch's writing, with its lucky coincidences and farcical diversions, does not always suggest.

Hollywood's embrace of boys in men's bodies never caught on in France, where male leads grapple with relationships instead of fearing them. Xavier's travails, articulated through extensive musing voice-overs that invariably recall Woody Allen, come from a place of responsibility to his children, while acknowledging that sleeping on a mattress in a cruddy apartment is fine at 20 but worrying at 40.

A crisply shot, street-level feel for New York adds to the pleasing surface qualities the film ties together. Klapisch knows how to offer just enough to keep Chinese Puzzle rolling along and, although the option for a fourth movie is kept open, it is probably time to allow Xavier a quiet life.

Chinese Puzzle opens Thursday April 17