Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Chinese Puzzle

In 2002, Cedric Klapisch made a film called L'Auburgene Espagnole (The Spanish Inn), and followed it up in 2005 with one called Russian Dolls. We had not seen either of those films, nor were we even aware of them, in fact, until we stepped up to the concession stand and someone said, "Oh, did you see the first two?"

No matter. This is a story of a fairly simple man whose life has become incredibly complicated through his associations with various women, none of whom seem to view any of this as a big deal.

When we begin, Xavier is married to Wendy. They've got two kids and his career as a writer is taking off. But when she flies off to America for some movie or TV show or something, she comes back wanting a divorce and to take the kids to the USA.

Xavier goes along with it (not sure if he has a choice given the laws of the land) but quickly misses his kids too much to stay in Paris while they're in NYC, so he packs up and moves. Whatever money he has for his writing does not equip him for living on Central Park South, where his ex is now living with her American producer boyfriend.

Although he has to scrape by for a living, his best buddy, Isabelle, lives in NYC with her lover and their baby. Allow me to clarify the "their": Isabelle is pregnant with Xavier's child because the two wanted a child and someone they knew, so Xavier donated against his wife's wishes. (Not that she ever finds out.)

But Isabelle argues him into it by saying he wouldn't be a father in the classical sense, just a donor, which turns out to be true until it becomes more convenient to have a father around. Especially when Isabelle needs someone to watch the kid while she's out diddling the babysitter.

Rounding out this trio is Martine, who was involved with Xavier before he hooked up with Wendy, and who has two kids she brings to New York for some reason (I forget) and ends up staying with Xavier and his two kids. While there she coaxes Xavier into having sex with her, and they rekindle an old relationship, at least while she's there.

Meanwhile Xavier is struggling to get some rights to his children, since Wendy's being a bit of a shrew.

These threads are all woven together, along with a backstory about Xavier's father, who apparently split from his mother when Xavier was quite young, leaving Xavier to wonder if the two ever loved each other.

And it all takes place against a backdrop that's essentially a love song to America. In a French film!

That's always kind of nice.

The Boy and I were rather fond of this film. Entertaining with strong characters, amusing story, remarkably uncynical: You can do worse making a movie (and many do). The acting is la creme de la creme of French cinema with Romain Duris (Populaire) as Xavier, Audrey Tatou (Therese, Priceless), Cecile de France (The Kid With A Bike, Hereafter) as Isabelle, and (English actress) Kelly Reilly (Flight, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows).

I keep feeling like we're seeing all these foreign films about the fallout from post-modern familial structures: The reviews are in and it seems like divorce doesn't lead to happy, together children.

I don't expect that observation to lead anywhere, of course.

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