Casse-Tête Chinois

The first French movie I ever saw was L’Auberge Espagnole, back when I was still a student in high school. One of my favorite French films to date, this film is about 25-year-old Xavier (Romain Duris), who decides to spend a year in Barcelona, completing a Master’s Degree in Economics while also improving his Spanish. During his year abroad he lives in a Spanish Apartment with an English girl (Wendy, played by Kelly Reilly), a Spanish girl, an Italian guy, a German guy, a Danish guy, and his best-lesbian Belgian friend, Isabelle (Cécile de France), all whilst trying to maintain a relationship with his girlfriend back home. Xavier also secretly wants to be a writer, and he spends his time in Barcelona writing a book about a bunch of people from different nationalities living together under one roof in a foreign city. The year abroad in Barcelona changed Xavier’s life, and upon returning to Paris he pursued his dreams as a writer. *Side-Note: before my trip to Barcelona this past October, the only thing I knew about the city came from this movie!*

Fast forward a few years, and the film’s sequel, Poupées Russes (Russian Dolls) has been released. Xavier and the gang are now 30 and exploring adulthood. Xavier has also scored a deal with a publisher, who recommends he works with a well-known, talented English-writer in order to make his work more popular (turns out to be his ex-roommate, Wendy.) The two of them commute back and forth between London and Paris for their project, and soon discover they would like to be more than just friends. At the same time, Wendy’s brother, William, is marrying a Russian woman from St. Petersburg, and the entire Auberge Espagnole gang is invited to the wedding. Xavier continues a steady relationship with his BFF Isabelle as well as a close-knit friendship with his ex, Martine (Audrey Tautou). Xavier and Wendy are together at the end of the film.

The final sequence, Casse-Tête Chinois, or Broken Chinese Head came out on December 4th, so of course I had to see it here in France ASAP. Now, the gang is forty years old, although the only characters who come back are Wendy and Xavier, who have lived together as partners for ten years (and had two French-English children), Isabelle, whose partner is a Chinese-American woman in NYC (and to whom Xavier donates his sperm to help the two of them have a baby), and Martine, Xavier’s ex-girlfriend but still good friend. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but overall I thought it was really good (but a bit ridiculous in the end.) The best parts for me and the two ladies I went to see it with were how they really hit the nail on the head when it came to explaining the realities of being an expat or a foreigner in a different country (the majority of the movie takes place in NYC.) It was quite humorous and all of us could relate to this film. The film was in both French and English, with a bit of Chinese sprinkled in, so the entire movie also contained French subtitles (though we were also coincidentally at a showing equipped for people who are deaf. Regardless the subtitles helped me out immensely with my comprehension.)

I recommend this series to anyone interested in modern French Cinema!




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