A child-like housewife discovers her own voice in this beguiling remake of the Argentine drama Rompecabezas.



Piece meal: Kelly Macdonald


The puzzle in question is of the jigsaw variety. It is one of the few pleasures that Agnes allows herself, in between caring for her husband, and her two sons, all the cooking, the housework and her commitments to the church. Somehow, by arranging all these myriad cardboard shapes into their correct order gives Agnes a sense of control, of finding a way to complete the puzzle of her life. As the film opens, we see her preparing for a birthday party: arranging the decorations, hanging the banners, baking the cake. Unfolding in upstate New York, the scene has the aura of a Norman Rockwell painting, a depiction of a homely, bygone era. Then, two things hurl us into the slipstream of the story: we find out that Agnes has been preparing her own birthday party and that, besides a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, she is given an iPhone. However, it is the first present that inadvertently leads Agnes to a new life…


Marc Turtletaub’s Puzzle, from a screenplay by Oren Moverman, is an American remake of the 2010 Argentine film Rompecabezas. Like such modest classics as The Lacemaker, the Brazilian Hour of the Star and the more recent Daphne, it is a timeless character study of a woman side-lined by life. Agnes certainly has the measure of her routine, counting down the seconds until her alarm clock goes off, silently mouthing in advance the predictable platitudes that emanate from her blob of a husband (David Denman). She is of another time, she is even naïve, but she is not stupid. And, then, on a whim, she starts to succumb to her whims…


The film is not unlike its protagonist. Its wider ambitions materialise slowly and while it seems to occupy a modest, even safe mind-set, it has the intelligence to feed out its story in its own time, without pandering to the impatient. The result, then, is a splatter of surprises, as our heroine gathers courage to pursue her own dreams and to find her own voice. As Agnes, the Glasgow-born Kelly Macdonald is delightful, plausible and childlike, grabbing the reins of this star-making opportunity with quiet conviction. From her film debut in Trainspotting (1996), Ms Macdonald has carved out an impressive portfolio (No Country for Old Men, Swallows and Amazons, Goodbye Christopher Robin) without gaining international stardom. However, nobody could have predicted Sally Hawkins’ sudden Hollywood supremacy, so why not Kelly Macdonald? It’s about bloody time.




Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Bubba Weiler, Austin Abrams, Liv Hewson, Matthew Shifrin.


Dir Marc Turtletaub, Pro Wren Arthur, Guy Stodel, Marc Turtletaub and Peter Saraf, Screenplay Oren Moverman, Ph Chris Norr, Pro Des Roshelle Berliner, Ed Catherine Haight, Music Dustin O'Halloran, Costumes Mirren Gordon-Crozier.


Big Beach/Olive Productions-Sony Pictures

103 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 7 September 2018. Cert. 15.