Chinese Puzzle Director Cédric Klapisch on Bobo Paris, Monogamy, and Padlocks

Photo: Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

Francophiles in New York will be delighted to learn that the latest from Cédric Klapisch opens tomorrow. While the director may not be a household name here, his light comedy trilogy has garnered international fans — and it doesn't hurt that it stars manic pixie dream fille Audrey Tautou and Gallic dreamboat Romain Duris. L'Auberge Espagnole tackled a group of international students in Barcelona; the sequel, Russian Dolls, followed the cast of characters into their 30s, and in the third installment, Chinese Puzzle, most of the action takes place in New York, where Duris's character, now pushing 40, takes an apartment in Chinatown. (Watch an exclusive clip here.) Klapisch took time out from promoting the film to chat with us about Paris versus Brooklyn, his philandering president, and the allure of the bourgeois bohemian.

What do you think the appeal of New York is for French people? Is it just the increased social mobility that exists in America?
I think since I was a student here — I went to NYU film school a long time ago — and I’ve been traveling a lot between the two cities, I realized that everyone dreams about the other city. If you’re in New York, you dream about Paris, and the Parisian dreams about New York. Obviously for different reasons, because I guess New York represents something cool, free. There’s kind of a freedom of enterprise and behavior. You can be freer here. People judge people more in France.

What is the one thing you wish Paris would adopt from New York and New York life, and vice versa?
I think that Paris was safer in the '80s than New York. I feel that now New York is safer than Paris. I'd love for Parisians to become less aggressive and more courteous and community-[oriented] like New Yorkers have become in the last ten years. What I like about France in general is that the question of art, films, culture, education, health care is less related to the question of money than in NYC.

I feel like French people that I talk to are really obsessed with New York, specifically Brooklyn. And then people in Brooklyn all —
Hate French people?

No, they love French people. There’s that book Bringing Up Bébé that’s so popular here. Everyone’s trying to bring up their kids in the French fashion. There are countless articles about how to get French women’s style, how French women don’t get fat. It's this grass-is-greener thing where both cultures are kind of idolizing each other.
It’s very true and it’s been true for a long time, which is really funny, because I remember when I went here it was in the '80s to study and then it was the beginning — the loft thing was really hot at that moment and then it became hot in Paris when I came back. So it was funny that the way of living in New York became something that people were looking for in Paris, using old factories and making them into apartments. And for coffee shops or cafés, it’s funny that when you go to New York you see something, then you go back to Paris and you see the other thing. The same thing that was copied from New York and the same thing in New York. You see a French café. Really everyone wants to imitate the other city, so you feel like it’s a mirror relationship where there’s something always new in the other city that people want to copy. Probably New Yorkers feel like there’s something old and authentic in the old things that they want to copy; and there’s something modern in New York that the French want to copy, so it’s always funny to see what people like about the other one.

You tend to focus on  upper-middle-class creatives. For example, Romain Duris's character is a novelist. I’m wondering how you think the bourgeois/bohemian scene has changed in Paris, and what it’s like to be a part of that.
It’s probably very close to what’s happening in New York. When I came back every two or three years, I was seeing the city changing and being more gentrified. It was funny to see how every neighborhood became chic in 20 years. It’s not the same thing in Paris, because I think the chic neighborhoods are the same in Paris; they haven’t changed, but the bobo thing has changed. So when people were bourgeois in the '60s and '70s, it wasn’t the same way they are bourgeois today, and probably [it's the same with] the bobo thing, where you don’t have to show off your money —  you can wear used jeans or live in a loft and not an Upper East Side apartment, or on the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris.

It’s not cool to be showy about wealth. 
Yes, and [that goes for] everything that’s happening in Brooklyn, where there’s so many fancy buildings being built and expensive apartments, and it used to be a warehouse or factories or very poor neighborhoods that are now gentrified. It’s the same kind of phenomenon in Paris, where basically the whole city is becoming more and more gentrified and people go to the suburbs when they don’t have enough money.

The scandal with François Hollande surrounding his affair with Julie Gayet: I’m just wondering what the general tenor is of that in Paris right now?
I think it makes everyone laugh in a sense because it’s no big deal, and I think Gayet was really intelligent to go to the César Awards [French equivalent of the Oscars]. She’s not, like, a dumb pretty girl. She’s a producer. She’s a great actress, and okay, they had an affair. I don’t know what to say about that because of course it’s more complicated when you have a love affair when you’re a president. But I can’t really comment, because obviously in my movies, people have strange love affairs, and it’s just that when you’re president, and when you’re the girlfriend of the president, it’s not the same. But it is the same. I think what he did was the right thing because, okay, he wasn’t in love with Valérie [Trierweiler] anymore and he said, “Okay.” I can understand that he didn’t say “let’s quit,” because it was never the right moment. So he was trapped in something that was complicated.

I think people were also surprised because he’s such a schlub — do you know that term? He just seems very like a dorky guy, so to think he was with Ségolène [Royal] and Trierweiler and now Gayet, people didn’t see that coming.
I’m sorry for him. I feel bad for him because I understand that it’s not an easy thing and it’s not great. The whole story’s not really noble, but I can’t say, "Oh, it’s really bad what he did." I can’t really say that.

How different do you think attitudes are in Paris toward infidelity, compared to New York? Obviously, it's a theme of your trilogy.
We probably accept more easily in France that love is a complicated matter. Besides that, to find a lover in the closet in so many French movies is far less shocking for me than killing or rape scenes in so many American movies.

If you were filming young people in Paris now — a version of L’Auberge Espagnole, but set in 2014, where would you be most interested in looking?
Canal Saint-Martin and around rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin [in the 10th Arrondissement].

There’s a controversy surrounding the padlocks on the Pont des Arts. Apparently there's a petition to get rid of them.
I didn’t know that.

Weirdly, it was two American women protesting.
Really? It’s a strange phenomenon because I think it started five years ago, so it’s really recent. It became a big thing because the bridge got covered with those lockers. It’s not ugly in a sense, and I think it’s a nice idea, although to relate love with a lock is a strange idea.

It’s like the Cartier love bracelet. 
It’s kind of a romantic idea, and I understand that it’s kind of a "coins in Rome in the fountain," that kind of [touristy] thing.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photo: Courtesy of Cohen Media Group