Fa­mil­iar char­ac­ters re­sume their search for the self in Cedric Klapisch’s comic drama writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - FILM -

more the French way, more my way of work­ing. But even be­fore that, we were us­ing New York City as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a strug­gle be­tween or­der and chaos, like Xavier’s life.

“For all the chal­lenges we faced film­ing in Amer­ica, what’s been great about work­ing with (French stu­dio) Canal Plus is how, all along, they’ve been more trust­ing of my way of work­ing than of a script or a story. It’s a great priv­i­lege. They know that if I feel free, then I’ll do bet­ter. It might be dif­fer­ent for other di­rec­tors, but I have to feel free in or­der to be cre­ative.”

Which is ex­actly what Xavier learns about him­self dur­ing the course of the tril­ogy.

For Duris, who has worked on and off with Klapisch dur­ing the past 20 years, the changes in the di­rec­tor’s work­ing meth­ods also mir­ror his evo­lu­tion as a film­maker. “With the ex­pe­ri­ence he’s gained over the years, he’s ob­vi­ously be­come more ma­ture in his work,” the ac­tor says. “But, at the same time, he hasn’t lost the care­free in­sou­ciance that he had when he was younger. That means that he still takes risks, that he em­braces the dan­ger. But his vi­sion of people, of hu­man be­ings, hasn’t changed. [ He] likes people and it shows in his films.”

In­deed, since his fea­ture de­but, Riens du tout (1992), Klapisch has been telling sto­ries that em­brace their char­ac­ters’ at­tempts to make sense of their place in the world. In their win­ningly hu­man­ist way, whether they’re about cities ( Paris, My Piece of the Pie), spe­cific neigh­bour­hoods ( When the Cat’s Away), fam­i­lies ( Un Air de Famille, Peut-etre), crim­i­nals ( Not For, or Against) or friends (the Xavier tril­ogy), they’re con­cerned with how in­di­vid­u­als learn about them­selves through their com­mu­ni­ties.

“I wasn’t al­ways alert to this as a theme in my work,” Klapisch says, “but now I have to ad­mit that it’s be­come more and more con­scious. It hasn’t been in­ten­tional, but ev­ery­thing that I’ve come up with, ev­ery story that’s in­ter­ested me, deals with what binds people: how bound­aries ex­ist in a fam­ily, or a group of friends, or a cou­ple, or a com­pany.

“If I deal with only per­sonal prob­lems, for me that wouldn’t be enough. And I think that I can go even fur­ther in that di­rec­tion. I want to look more closely at the con­nec­tion be­tween psy­chol­ogy and pol­i­tics. For ex­am­ple, what is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the in­ti­mate prob­lems faced by in­di­vid­u­als and glob­al­i­sa­tion?”

Chi­nese Puzzle re­ver­ber­ates with strate­gi­cally placed echoes from the ear­lier films: sep­a­ra­tions at air­ports; searches for ac­com­mo­da­tion in a for­eign city; evenings spent on a friend’s couch; help given to a friend to con­ceal an in­fi­delity from her part­ner. And it is, like its two pre­de­ces­sors, a com­pli­cated and of­ten bril­liantly funny com­edy of man­ners about the dif­fer­ing cul­tural faces that its char­ac­ters bring to the melt­ing-pot of which they’re a part. As Duris ob­serves, “One of Cedric’s strengths is his de­sire to pur­sue the philo­soph­i­cal un­der­pin­nings of a scene, to make it light on the sur­face but se­ri­ous un­der­neath, which brings him very close to people he ad­mires, like Fellini and Hawks. Only the pack­ag­ing is light­weight.”

Klapisch may re­fer to the films as a tril­ogy but he hasn’t en­tirely closed the door on a fur­ther se­quel.

“I have no idea if I will have the de­sire to make an­other film with the same char­ac­ters,” he says, hav­ing ob­vi­ously heard the ques­tion many times be­fore.

“But,” he adds, “I think what’s strong about all the films is that their end­ings seem like new be­gin­nings. And, for me, find­ing this again would be es­sen­tial if I was go­ing to add an­other chap­ter to the story.”

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