'Chinese Puzzle': An Interview with Director Cedric Klapisch and Actor Romain Duris

PopMatters caught up with Romain Duris and writer/director Cédric Klapisch during their recent trip to New York and we discussed their two-decade long work relationship.

Chinese Puzzle

Director: Cédric Klapisch
Cast: Romain Duris, Kelly Reilly, Audrey Tautou

It’s been 13 years since worldwide audiences first met Xavier (Romain Duris) in Cédric Klapisch’s L’Auberge Espagnole as he moved to Barcelona and befriended a group of young men and women from all over the world with whom he shared some extraordinary adventures. It’s also been ten years since we last saw Xavier in Russian Dolls as he followed his heart’s desire to St. Petersburg trying to win the love of Wendy (Kelly Reilly). Since then Duris’ career has exploded and showcased his talents as both a romantic lead (Populaire) and a dark anti-hero worthy of a Melville film (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) and soon we will see him in Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo (opening Stateside on July 18), which makes it fascinating to see him slip back so easily into the skin of Xavier in the series’ latest installment Chinese Puzzle.

We caught up with Duris and writer/director Klapisch during their recent trip to New York and we discussed their two-decade long work relationship, the “Antoine Doinel” effect in their Spanish Trilogy and whether this is the last we’ll see of Xavier...

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Romain, how does it feel to come back to playing Xavier after ten years?

Romain Duris: It’s great because by now you have a complicity with the audience, you have a language with them when you’re talking about something because they saw the movie ten years before.

Cédric, how did you develop these characters over so long? Did you keep files on them?

Cédric: I did keep notes between the last two movies, but in fact I had to invent everything as I was working. Except for that one scene in which Romain’s character gets lost in the West Village, I’d written that scene and other than that I had to follow the storylines for all the other characters. I ended up not really using the notes I took, it was strange.

It’s unusual for films to capture the chaos of living in NYC, yet your film shows us things that otherwise are rarely discussed in romantic comedies, like immigration problems, getting a green card, the chaos of traversing the West Village. Can you talk about capturing that version of the city?

Cédric: You can say that this movie is a romantic comedy, but when I watch romantic comedies I hate the cuteness in them. When people shoot love stories in NYC they tend to be very clean and slick, I wanted to show that NY can be dirty and messy in a good way. What I like about NY is its vivaciousness, I wanted to tell a romantic story that also captured the way I see the city.

How hard was it to get all the actors together?

Cédric: I had to be patient, because we met two years before the movie and asked them when they were available. We ended up shooting a year and a half after that meeting, which was good because it took me that long to get financing and finish the screenplay.

Romain, I could swear I saw dashes of Antoine Doinel in your performance. Were those films an inspiration at all?

Romain: An example, I don’t know if they were an inspiration. Truffaut and Doinel were very of their time, while we are coherent with our period. Other than that, we watched the Truffaut series together to see how we could do different things, to see what had been done before.

Cédric: The idea was not to copy, just to see that this had done before. I wanted us to watch these movies together to talk about the evolution of a character. We were conscious of what had been done so we could refer to that because I love Truffaut and he invented something special. But Truffaut saw Antoine as an alter ego, whereas I don’t think that Xavier is me, Xavier in an invention.

Is this the last we’ve seen of these characters?

Cédric: The more films I make with this character, the more inventive I have to be, so I’ll wait ten years before we do another one. I’m not sure if we’ll even want to be together in ten years.

The two of you have worked together for 20 years now, you’ve made seven films together…

Cédric: (pointing at Romain) he was “this” tall when we met (laughs)

Can you talk about the kind of language you’ve developed by now?

Cédric: We understand each other very quickly, very often I don’t even need to finish sentences and he knows what I want.

Romain: Because he knows me a lot, he invented this character for me to play and it was special, it was different.

Romain, you’ve also played characters in pretty much every genre, from gangsters to romantic leads to Moliere, are there any genres you haven’t done that you’re interested in?

Romain: I don’t have any preference, I think the work is quite the same, you have to create a world and go for it, whether it’s comedy -- where you need to be funny (laughs) -- or drama, you just need to do the work. I like to do comedies, dramas, period movies, I think it’s a privilege to be able to change and be different people.

The trilogy feels very global, from the use of Skype in Chinese Puzzle to the multilingual, multicultural characters we’ve met in each installment, can you talk about the post-globalization message within the films and this conception of the world being smaller than we think?

Cédric: The three films are about a new generation that deals with mobility, so I try to deal with their realities. For example Skype is less expensive than a phone, so I’m not saying this is the future, it’s now, it’s common. Those scenes were interesting to shoot. I was also interested in how these characters find apartments, they see the ad, go on Google maps and only afterwards go see the place in real life. You compare the street you’re walking in to the street you saw in the virtual map. The three films are talking about this generation that grew up with globalization. Twenty years ago we had no computers, the internet changed how we share things with each other and everything is pushing people to experience the fact that we’re very different. Even if in the first film Xavier went to Spain, which is next door to France, all the people he met will keep traveling forever. Traveling itself is a culture.

Can you discuss the rhythm in each film. The first one feels like a party, while this one felt relaxed, more “mature”...

Cédric: Every story has its own rhythm and obviously even though Xavier is still running at 40, he wants to be stable. At 25 he wasn’t very coherent, so of course they rhythm is adjusted to him. He’s not settled down yet, things aren’t yet as quiet as he wants them to be...

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Chinese Puzzle is now playing in limited release.

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