Casse-tête Chinois [Chinese Puzzle] (Cedric Klapisch, 2014)

I have to confess that I saw Casse-tête Chinois (Chinese Puzzle) at the 2013 London Film Festival and knew nothing about it. It was picked on a whim when I had a gap to fill in my schedule and I wasn’t able to put any research into it beforehand. During the post-film Q&A with director Klapisch, I learned that it is in fact the third installment of what is known as the Spanish Apartment trilogy, following L’Auberge Espagnole (2002) and Les Poupées russes (2005).

It stars Romain Duris as Xavier, a novelist whose ex-wife and children have moved to New York. The story concentrates on the complicated web of relationships that surround him as he tries to find an apartment, a job and some kind of life. Included in this web are his ex-wife Wendy (Kelly Reilly, now with her new husband), his ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou) and her children, his best friend Isabelle (Cecile de France) and her partner Ju (Sandrine Holt) who are trying to have children of their own (with Xavier’s help), and many more bit players, all full of character. It’s a great ensemble cast and it’s clear they had a fantastic time filming together.

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The film is a joy to watch, with laugh-out-loud moments littered throughout. It’s unusual and quirky. It did not matter one bit that I didn’t know any of the background; the characters are well defined and it works very well as a standalone film. The hilarious business meeting where Martine has to speak Chinese, the sham marriage Spanish Xavier goes through with a Chinese girl to become American, and the crescendo where they all come together in one edge-of-the-seat hilarious finale – the balance is spot on. There are some more serious moments too, not least Isabelle’s affair with her au pair, but these tend to (eventually) be dealt with in a light-hearted manner.

It’s probably not going to make massive waves outside France, which is a shame because there are some lovely romantic comedies being made in that country at the moment and they deserve a little more attention. It may well also be the last installment in the series, with the director alluding to the fact it was difficult to convince some of them – especially Tautou – to come back for the third chapter.

I’d recommend it if you fancy a humorous and whimsical journey through someone else’s very complicated problems and need an emotional lift. It certainly won’t disappoint you.

Casse-tête chinois is released later in 2014 in the UK.

Watch the trailer here.

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The 7:39 (John Alexander, 2014)

Sometimes you watch a show on TV with no prior knowledge of the content, with no preconception of what is coming. Usually when you do this, you’re left disappointed and quickly switch over or find yourself checking your phone at decreasing intervals. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a gem, a diamond in the rough. So it was with the gripping BBC two-part romantic drama The 7:39.

Starring David Morrissey (The Walking Dead) and Sheradin Smith (Legally Blonde), with supporting roles from Sean Maguire (Eastenders) and Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur), the story tells the chance development of an affair between Carl (Morrissey) and Sally (Smith), who catch the same eponymous commuter train. Both unknowingly in a rut in their life at home and at work, they quickly find an unlikely spark between each other and grow closer through the increasingly precious time they spend together en route to work.

Carl has a lot more to lose. He is married with two teenage children and has an exceptionally supportive wife (Colman), but yet he is the driving course behind the forbidden relationship. Sally is engaged to her overprotective fiancé Ryan – brilliantly portrayed by Maguire – who is hellbent on arranging the perfect wedding and seemingly attempting to smother every aspect of Sally’s life, though only out of love and devotion.

It is a sign of excellent writing by David Nicholls (One Day, Starter For 10), matched by perfect performances by the highly talented cast, that we quickly find ourselves rooting for Carl and Sally. Seeing them play out this despicable action, knowing they’re on a collision course to devastate everything they know and love, I was surprised that when the chance arose I was on the edge of my seat willing them on to go for it. It is a deed we hope we would never be subjected to by a loved on – or even worse commit ourselves – yet the reasoning is portrayed fully without ever needing to be spelled out. Of course, the subject matter has divided audiences, but that is the sign of a powerful work of art.

It is wonderful that there is such high quality drama being produced in the UK and that there is an outlet for the all-British cast to excel on prime-time television. It could easily have had a successful cinematic release and wouldn’t have looked out of place on the big screen. Hopefully it is the first of many more of its ilk.

The 7:39 is available to watch for free on iPlayer and Sky On Demand until 14th January 2014 and is released on DVD on 10th February 2014.

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