PUZZLE — Review by Cate Marquis

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Puzzle opens with a woman (Kelly Macdonald) in an old fashioned dress preparing her home for a birthday party. After we see her waiting on guests, cleaning up after them and bringing out the cake she baked, we discover it is her birthday. Her dress and the decor of the house suggest it is the 1930s or ’40s, so we are again surprised when, after the guests are gone and she is opening gifts, one of them is a smart phone – revealing we are in the present. She doesn’t seem very pleased with the phone, but is more interested in the next gift – a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Continue reading…

Oddly, it is the puzzle rather than the smart phone that changes her tidy, predictable life. Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) is a quiet, old- fashioned, traditional wife and mother whose life revolves around her family, home and church. She is not interested in the outside world and seems content, even happy, to care for her mechanic husband and two teen-aged sons. But it is a life of stifling routine, one without challenges, where she is marking time. Her chores done and with time on her hands, Agnes sits down to do her jigsaw puzzle.

While it is would take most of us several days to put together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, Agnes completes it easily in an few hours. Pleased with the sensation of accomplishment it gives her, she does it again before dinner.

It turns out Agnes is a jigsaw puzzle prodigy and a new hunger for puzzles leads her to a puzzle shop in nearby New York and a man (played with irascible charm by Irrfan Khan) looking for a partner for a jigsaw puzzle competition. But this film is not about the world of jigsaw puzzle competition but about this woman’s journey to self discovery.

Directed by Marc Turtletaub, Puzzle is actually a remake of a drama by Argentinian director Natalia Smirnoff, a film which won praise at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival.

The acting is the strong point of this remake. The role gives Scottish character actress Kelly Macdonald a chance to shine, as Agnes figures out how her gift for puzzles fits into her life. Casting Macdonald was a brilliant choice, as it a perfect step beyond the servant or wife roles the actress frequently plays, such as in Gosford Park and No Country for Old Men. Pairing her with Irrfan Khan, Agnes’ complete opposite as an oddball tech millionaire obsessed with competitive puzzling, is a perfect move as well, and their scenes together are crackling. The rest of the supporting cast are strong foils allowing Macdonald to explore Agnes’s inner life.

Puzzle is an acting tour-de-force by Kelly Mcdonald as a woman who reconsiders her assumptions about her life and self.

motw logo 1-35EDITOR’S NOTE: Puzzle is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for July 27, 2018.

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.