Saturday 9 December 2023

"You feel the happiness"...Part Three of Tom Ryan's conversation with Cedric Klapisch - On CHINESE PUZZLE (France, 2014)

Editor's Note: In 2005, Tom Ryan travelled to Paris for The Age,  where, with Stephanie Bunbury they interviewed the amiable and very likeable Klapisch about the first two films in the trilogy. That interview (click here for the link)  was followed by a discussion with Romain Duris about his work with Klapisch. 


In March 2014, corresponding with the Australian release of Chinese Puzzle, Tom spoke to writer-director Cedric Klapisch again, this time by phone. That interview appears below. 



Romain Duris, Cedric Klapisch while filming Chinese Puzzle

The publisher in Chinese Puzzle says about Xavier’s books that he would say that “they’re about me but they’re about you too”… Would you say the same is true for you about the three films in your trilogy?


Of course. The idea was to take a particular character for a fictional story and to make that character somehow related to the audience. That’s what’s interesting about fiction: that you can depict someone who’s very particular, perhaps even peculiar, and see how he or she relates to everyone. So with Xavier, the idea for the first film, L’Auberge Espagnole, was to take someone who was very normal, very common, and then follow the changes he goes through, looking at the ways in which we could make the audience identify with him.


How much is Xavier you? How much is he Romain Duris? And would it be accurate to say that he’s become you less and less and more a character in his own right as the series has gone on?


I really agree with you, Tom, because I think he was a lot more me in L’Auberge Espagnole, a little less in Russian Dolls and there’s about 30% left of me in the last one. I think that change gives the character authenticity and sincerity. My connection with the last film is that I separated from someone when I was 40 years old and now I live every other week with my two children. So this is how the film relates to what has happened to me in the last 12 years, since my separation. 


Cecile de France, Romain Duris, Kelly Reilly, Audrey Tautou
Chinese Puzzle

That way it’s really related to me. Other than that, I’m not with someone from England, I don’t live in New York, and everything that happens to Xavier is really something else. Romain gave his body and his way of talking to the character. You could say that’s about 10% of himself. Which leaves 60% left for fiction.


How much of what Xavier tells us as narrator should we believe? Is he reliable?


I think so. I think with the voice-over, it’s what he really thinks and that he’s really sincere about himself. I think it’s so obvious when he’s lying that you trust him when he’s not.


But when he says, for example, that life is so complicated and his daughter makes it all simple (“two mummies and one daddy”), aren’t we supposed to see it all as a question of his viewpoint?


I think he’s telling the truth, which is why I think he’s reliable. I think he’s very sincere as he tries to explain to his children how they’ve acquired another sibling. When you’re talking to someone who’s four years old, you can say everything.


I understand from your comments in the press kit that putting the film together as a project was much more difficult than for the first two. Have Canal Plus become harder to deal with?


I wouldn’t say so because the problems I had didn’t come from StudioCanal. They came from the fact that everything was more expensive: the actors, shooting in New York with all the American rules. So that made it all more complicated. 


OK, money always complicates things. But you were able to work on the film the way you wanted?


Yes. I was really free to work the way I wanted, because StudioCanal is very respectful about authors and about the freedom with the script and so they really left me alone. They might come to me with disagreements about something, but they’re happy to talk it through. And it’s really a collaboration.


Audrey Tautou, Romain Duris, Chinese Puzzle

You told me 10 years ago that whereas you made L’Auberge Espagnole on the run, drawing on improvisations during rehearsal, Russian Dolls was “the same kind of movie with more reflection”. Was making Chinese Puzzle more in line with that second approach? 


Yes. Even more than with Russian Dolls because, you know, it speaks for itself. L’Auberge Espagnole was written in two weeks, Russian Dolls in three or four months, and this one in eight months. And so that gives you how much time we had to plan each of the films. In this one, I had to forget about the improvisation and the freshness and innocence I knew I had with the first one…


I understand that you were shooting at least some of the film in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. And that must have meant a lot of filming on the run.


That’s what’s strange, Tom. It’s exactly the opposite of how it was generally in New York because with the American technicians and the American rules, you have to plan things out a lot. But when the hurricane happened, we had to invent a new way of shooting and we found ourselves doing the same thing we were doing 12 years ago on L’Auberge Espagnole. I felt comfortable just after the hurricane because it was more the French way, more my way of working, to do things at the last moment and to react to the fact that a street was destroyed and we had to move but didn’t have authorisation. And during the last day of shooting we went back to what we had with L’Auberge Espagnole in the first place.


Xavier says at the end that “when you arrive at happiness, it’s time to stop”. However, happiness is transient and true happiness is always somewhere in the future. Could I deduce from this that we might be catching up with Xavier, his friends and his children a bit further down the track?


I think that at the end of L’Auberge Espagnole he says that it’s time to start now, and so the end of the movie was the beginning of something.


On the tarmac…


That’s right. And I think that’s what’s so strong about the first movie and why people would ask about a second movie and then a third. It was always because the ending would seem like a new beginning. I think that when you leave the audience with something which is just starting, it’s then that you feel the happiness. It’s something you haven’t seen and you feel like something is going to result. 

Xavier's arranged marriage, Chinese Puzzle


So I think that what he says about happy endings and about the fact that, even though we all want to be happy in our lives – and it’s often very complicated to be happy in real life – in a fiction, when you describe happiness, what his publisher says is true, that, if you make a novel or a film with only happiness, it’s very boring. You can’t do anything with it. There’s nothing to say about it. 


So it’s strange when we follow someone’s life and what he’s writing about his life. For fiction, it’s better that you have problems and conflict and, for your real life, it’s better if you don’t have that.


I’m not sure that you’ve answered my question about whether or not we’re likely to see them again.


Oh, I don’t know if there’ll be a fourth. In 10 years from now, I have no idea if I will have the desire to make another film with the same actors. So it will depend on that. If there is the desire, then I will make one. If I don’t have any ideas in the next 10 years, then I won’t.


When I spoke to you about Russian Dolls, there were a couple of scenes you mentioned – one you had to cut about Wendy saying that she actually likes her work, and another about how silly lovers look to little children – that turn up here. I get the sense that you’ve been working on Chinese Puzzle, on and off, ever since you’ve finished Russian Dolls. So are you now gathering ideas like that for the next sequel?


[Laughing] The thing that I think about for a fourth film is that I know that the ending would need to be about Xavier’s son leaving for a different country. It would be a good ending to end with the same kind of scene as in the first film. For me, that would be a good starting point for a fourth film.


One final question. Many of the scenes in Chinese Puzzle create echoes of incidents and situations in the earlier films: the airport separation; looking for an apartment; sleeping on somebody’s couch; late-night cavorting in the street; fairytale references; the rush to help a friend from being caught out with someone else by their partner; and so on. When you were writing it, was that your plan, or did it just happen?


Obviously I thought about it and I tried to work on the echoes and the correspondences that the three movies can have. But I was also aware that I didn’t want to copy the first two ones. I wanted to be creative and to invent new events and a new way of filming and that’s why it took so long. It was really tricky working out how to manipulate the elements to come up with something that had to look like the first two films and also be different. So it was really a question of balance.

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