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    Movie Review

    Pieces don’t come together in ‘Chinese Puzzle’

    From left: Cécile de France, Romain Duris, Kelly Reilly, and Audrey Tautou in a scene from “Chinese Puzzle,” directed by Cédric Klapisch.
    Cohen Media Group
    From left: Cécile de France, Romain Duris, Kelly Reilly, and Audrey Tautou in a scene from “Chinese Puzzle,” directed by Cédric Klapisch.

    Beware the movie featuring a writer as protagonist, because it will usually consist of wall-to-wall voice-over narration that states the obvious and recites banal profundities and reveals itself, by the end, to be the text of a novel with the same title as the movie.

    The novelist at the center of “Chinese Puzzle” is Xavier Rousseau (Romain Duris), and this is the third time Cédric Klapisch has made a film about him. The previous two were “L’Auberge Espagnole” (2002) and “Russian Dolls” (2005). Perhaps Klapisch intends Xavier to be a version of Antoine Doinel — the everyman hero of a series of François Truffaut’s films in the ’60s and ’70s — for the age of globalism. “Chinese Puzzle” explores the theme of how the world has become so interconnected that crazy, unexpected meetings and mix-ups happen with people from different countries, with a lot of the dialogue conducted via Skype. As Xavier puts it in voice-over, “Life! The unforeseen! All that stuff you can’t even imagine. That’s what I got hit with. Yet again. And, frankly, I wasn’t up to it.”

    No wonder he is proclaimed the next Marcel Proust.


    In fact, though, Xavier’s life is rather predictable, consisting of overly cute, sometimes funny, often sentimental, would-be ironic twists. The film’s first halfhour or so fills in what’s happened since the last movie: how Xavier and his wife, Wendy (Kelly Reilly), fell out of love and she moved to New York with their two kids to live with a tall, rich American. Though Xavier has hit it big on the Paris literary scene, he misses his children, so he gives it all up to follow the family to New York. There, he moves in with a lesbian friend and her partner, agrees to donate sperm so they can have a baby, abuses his ex-wife, gets weekend custody of the kids, finds a job as a bicycle messenger (being a French literary phenomenon apparently doesn’t pay very well), moves to Chinatown, saves a Chinese cabbie from a beating, marries the guy’s niece so he can get a green card, and then, just when you thought the coast was clear, Audrey Tautou shows up as Xavier’s old flame, Martine.

    That’s a lot of stuff. And in case you don’t remember it all, Xavier provides a quick recap near the end. Even with visits, à-la Woody Allen, from the philosophers Schopenhauer and Hegel, who offer cryptic advice such as the former’s “life is like embroidery,” “Puzzle” is neither puzzling nor much fun. It reminds you how much better Julie Delpy told the same story in “2 Days in New York.” It is also a reminder of how much better a filmmaker Klapisch was back in the ’90s, with films such as “When the Cat’s Away” (1996). Like so much else that is distinctive and original, he, too, is a victim of globalization.

    Peter Keough can be reached at