Any French / German / Spanish student will have been recommended the 2002 classic by Cédric Klapisch, 'L’Auberge Espagnole'. In somewhat of a tribute to Europe, six students from the continent all coop together in a small Barcelona apartment to study on the EU Erasmus programme. They are young and hot-to-trot in an environment where accents are aphrodisiacs. Despite the collision of cultures they all build believably affectionate friendships.
The sequel 'Les Poupées Russes' takes Europe out of strict focus but the story continues to appeal, also showcasing some great flair for surreal art direction. However, 'Chinese Puzzle' (original title: 'Casse-tete Chinois') is the most meaningful and rounded film of all three. For Xavier (Romain Duris), studying economics is in the distant past. Fast approaching 40 as a moderately successful novelist, he is married to English erasmite Wendy (Kelly Reilly) with two adorable kids. The marriage is on the rocks because Wendy has met someone new in the US and wishes to separate, children in tow.
A devastated Xavier launches an audacious bid to be closer to his children, writing a new book out in New York and devising a way of remaining there. His best friend from the fateful year in Barca, wisecracking lesbian Isabelle (Cecile de France), happens to also be in the Big Apple and is desperate for Xavier to help her produce a child. As if there weren’t enough knots to undo for Xavier, his first and foremost love Martine (Audrey Tautou) lingers in his life through Skype.
Romain and Audrey are fantastic as the time-worn insatiable love interests. The film is acute about reigniting love with an Ex, being paradoxically drawn in and infuriated by old habits, but with age bringing new unknowns. Every main protagonist in the film is now a parent of some kind (biological, step or expectant) providing enormous scope for stronger character development as everyone prioritises differently.
On a macro scale, Klapisch identifies plenty more comic and intelligent truisms about globalisation of culture - particularly the relevance of China and the US to Europeans. 'Chinese Puzzle' is the series’ point of maturity, but never loses that youthful sense of mischief and humour that makes the relationships in this film so warm.
'Chinese Puzzle' is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2013. Find screening times and purchase remaining tickets at bfi.org.uk/lff.