Friday, May 30, 2014

Postmodern lifestyle confusion

Chinese Puzzle is French director Cédric Klapisch’s coming to America film. Opening June 6 at Landmark’s Main Art Theatre it portrays the lives of on-the-cusp-of-turning-40 bourgeois bohemians (known as bobos), an ensemble effort with touches of Woody Allen and any number of indie directors. The characters are the requisite creative class types. The lead, Xavier, played by Romain Duris, is a successful novelist who doesn’t particularly feel so. His wife Wendy (Kelly Reilly) works in the cinema. Martine (Audrey Toutou) has some sort of ethical business promoting tea exports. Basically Xavier finds life “complicated” and embarks on a novel, called Chinese Puzzle, with that very theme in mind. After all, the poor shmuck has been dumped twice by women (Wendy and Martine) and is relegated to sperm donor for his lesbian friend Isabelle (Cécile de France) and her live in lover Ju (Sandrine Holt). Now with wife Wendy leaving him – with their two children in tow of course – for a new life and love in New York, Xavier is forced to follow if only to be near his kids. This is one lost soul indeed, who seeks out advice from the German philosophers like Schopenhauer and Hegel, who materialize in period garb to sit down beside him and commiserate. Xavier is an example of many modern men, who love their families and only want to stay married, contrary to often popular belief. They’re devastated when their wives leave them, and doubly so when they take the children. Xavier fraudulently gets a green card by marrying a Chinese woman (the Chinese theme is repeated constantly throughout the film, and many of its scenes take place in Chinatown) while harassed by the INS. This movie is a comedy drama but overall I found it melancholy. Here is modern man thrown on the heap of discarded alienated victims of the post-modern lifestyle. He’s a hollow character. When his dad visits – another person from whom he’s estranged – he finds a small sentimental sidewalk carving of initials and a heart drawn by his dad and mom many years ago. The engraving is “a kind of fundamental proof my birth wasn’t to be an accident,” he muses. By the end of the film Xavier hooks up with Martine (and her two kids) and they apparently will now live happily ever after, which seems a clichéd and schmaltzy plot conclusion. Klapisch indeed is inventive with images of magic realism represented by animated cardboard type pastiches which jump out to identify particular moods, something I’ve never seen in a movie before. And while some scenes and conversation will bring you a smile the overall mood is perplexing. There are just too many Xaviers out there.

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