'Chinese Puzzle' a buoyant and bittersweet romantic adventure

'Chinese Puzzle' charmingly concludes Cedric Klapisch's romantic trilogy begun in 2002

Cédric Klapisch's shiny, happy chronicle of globalization, as seen through the travels of a Parisian writer played by the ever-charismatic Romain Duris, gets a New York chapter in "Chinese Puzzle." The romantic adventure concludes a trilogy that began in 2002 with "L'Auberge Espagnole," an effervescent ode to pan-European optimism, and continued with the less endearing "Russian Dolls."

Klapisch's latest reunites the central quartet of actors from the previous films — Audrey Tautou, Cécile de France and Kelly Reilly star alongside Duris. Like its predecessors, "Chinese Puzzle" is overlong and more piffle than work of substance. Many of the voice-over musings of Duris' character, Xavier, on l'amour and life's left turns could be filed under "Duh." And yet "Puzzle" is the strongest of the features for a number of reasons.

The actors, up-and-comers at the time of the first installment, are now stars and bring a certain dazzle along with their experience. There's a poignancy, too, in watching the characters and performers alike approach 40. (The opening credits juxtapose images from all three movies.)

In the midst of a divorce from Wendy (Reilly), Xavier follows her to New York to be near their kids and is determined to make his life more linear, or at least better organized. Much like the Barcelona flat where the characters first met, his Chinatown apartment becomes a mini-U.N. as Xavier entertains his long-ago French girlfriend (Tautou), embarks on a faux marriage to a Chinese American to stay in the country and gives his Belgian lesbian soul mate (the excellent De France) a place for assignations with her babysitter.

The ground-level view of New York — high-energy, semi-farcical — avoids clichés while finding its own romantic pulse with Duris' charmer the compelling center of the buoyant and bittersweet storm.


"Chinese Puzzle"

MPAA rating: R for sexual content, nudity and language; in English and French with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes.

Playing: At the Landmark, West Los Angeles.

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