The good news is that while insider knowledge might deepen and enrich the goings on here, you don't really have to see the two previous instalments of Cedrc Kaplisch's 'Spanish apartment trilogy' (2002's L'Auberge Espanyol and 2005's Russian Dolls) to appreciate Chinese Puzzle. The bad news is that try as it might Chinese Puzzle fails to penetrate the heart – it's cute but flimsy and easily forgettable.
Writer Xavier (Duris) is approaching forty and under pressure to turn in a novel but life has other plans. His wife (Reilly) falls for an American and leaves Paris for New York, taking their two kids with her. Deciding that being close to his children is the most important thing, Xavier follows, calling on lesbian best friend Isabelle (De France), to whose egg he donated sperm, for help in finding an apartment. However, because he has only a tourist visa, his shady lawyer advises he find an American woman to marry so he can become a citizen...
Chinese Puzzle behaves like a distracted child. Conversations move through scenes with questions asked of one character but answered by another; some scenes are animated; magazine pages come to life; and 19th century German philosophers show up to offer advice. All the while Duris's narration joins the dots, linking thoughts. It's busy busy busy, and prone to digressions, which Duris in his narration apologises for, which is nice. However, it moves so quickly that nothing can register – it's not that Chinese Puzzle doesn't set itself up, but it's trying to set too much up.
Then everything eventually settles down - or one gets used to the breakneck pace - and a story emerges, something tangible to hang on to: Duris's Xavier is searching for the simplicity in the complication of life but learns to stop looking for the easy answers and revel in the difficulties life throws up. However, Kaplisch is more interested in the difficulties in lending your key to your lesbian friend so she can cheat on her lover just as the immigration authority are coming to check your apartment, instead of the estrangement from a wife and building a relationship with a son and daughter you only gets to see once a week.
Kudos to Kaplish for making each sequel stand-alone but that should be enough of a journey for these characters now.