The ultimate conclusion of Cédric Klapisch’s story, nine years after Les Poupées Russes, life is once again complex and irritating for Xavier (Romain Duris). Xavier acts as narrator as he tells the plot of his life (and his book) to a publisher on Skype. He’s told in no unclear terms, that happiness is boring – you can’t have a story where everyone is fulfilled. In the Q&A following the film Klapisch said that his first attempts for the script of Casse-tête Chinois everything had been left as optimistic as it was at the end of Les Poupées Russes, and the script was dull as can be.
Once more the characters from the previous films are pared down to leave only four. These performances are now totally comfortable and confident. When Xavier (Romain Duris) flies to New York following Wendy (Kelly Reilly) it seems only natural that he would end up on the sofa of eternally free-spirited Isabelle (Cécile de France). With the cast happily relocated to a new city the film makes full use of the environment. Early on in the film Xavier’s property hunt is rendered as a hilarious sequence with prices popping up on buildings and Google maps tours of the area, as well as a clearly doomed encounter with a landlord who is much less open to the modern family.
If L’auberge Espagnole and Les Poupées Russes were concerned with the emerging European identity, Casse-tête Chinois confronts globalisation. A French man follows an English woman to New York where his Belgian friend sets him up with a place in Chinatown. On a human level it’s the simplest thing imaginable, friends help one another regardless of international borders. Symbolically it represents the blurring of differences between nationalities and whether their identities will slowly disappear in the times to come. Thankfully Klapisch doesn’t dwell on these, he merely presents them as an oddity to be reckoned with and moves on to the comedy. Casse-tête Chinois is spectacularly funny. It makes the previous films look like that re-run of Friends that you laugh at out of habit. The comic culmination puts every single character into the smallest space imaginable. If circumstances had played out differently it could all have ended in heartbreak, but instead this awkward tension drives the laughter as Xavier and his friends continue to get away with their lies and muddles.
In the end it’s all fabulously uplifting. It seems that these characters won’t be seen on screen again, after all, they’re happy. As Xavier’s eternally glum publisher says, you can’t write about them when they’re happy. Regardless of whether you’ve seen the first two films, Casse-tête Chinois will leave a smile on your face.
- Entertainment: 5/5
- Artistic: 4/5
- Intellectual: 3/5