They're not exactly Richard Linklater's Before trilogy, but French filmmaker Cédric Klapisch's "Spanish Apartment" movies - 2002's L'Auberge Espagnole, 2005's Russian Dolls, and now, Chinese Puzzle - have their devotees, too. The three Klapisch films also have a similar thread: Backpacking boho boys and girls meet up in their early 20s, share wine, and talk, and beds, then move on to quarterlife crises, and now, grownup-ness, with marriages and kids and all the attendant blah blah.
Romain Duris is back as Xavier, the centric Frenchman who moved into that communal apartment in Barcelona back in the inaugural installment. Now, heading toward 40, he is a writer who finds himself relocating from Paris to New York - to be able to see his grade-school-age son and preschooler daughter, dragged across the Atlantic by their careerist American mom (Kelly Reilly), who has moved in with another man.
And so, it's culture-shock time - and apartment-rental-sticker-shock time - as Xavier runs (literally) all over Brooklyn and Manhattan in search of a place to live, a job, a green card. For a time, he's guesting with his old L'Auberge roomie Isabelle (Cécile de France) and her lesbian lover (Sandrine Holt), until he lands a flat in Chinatown (lots of ni hao's). Then his long-ago ex, Martine (Audrey Tautou), shows up on a business trip, with no plan whatsoever to rekindle their relationship. Rekindling ensues.
Only he has these kids now, and she has one back in Paris, and, yes, Xavier is also the sperm-donor dad for the baby that Isabelle and her partner have. And Isabelle has a thing for her babysitter, whose name is also Isabelle, and Xavier needs to get married so he can stay in the States, and his publisher is getting antsy for the novel, and Hegel shows up to have an imaginary, Woody Allen-esque chat about "nothingness."
It's all very busy, and cute, and, um, French, even if most of the action is divided between Lower Manhattan and hipster Brooklyn and the bridge that connects them, a bridge where de France's character just drops her bike, and her bag, with not a thought about thievery - except to steal a cinematic, and adulterous, kiss.
Chinese Puzzle *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Cédric Klapisch. With Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile de France, Kelly Reilly. In French with subtitles, and in English. Distributed by Cohen Media.
Running time: 1 hour, 57 mins.
Parent’s guide: R (sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Five.