L'Auberge Espagnole

Audrey Tautou's name is the only name that appears in advertisements for L'Auberge Espagnole, and the previews single her out. Well, Tautou (He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, Amelie) is in the film, but barely. She has at most ten minutes of screen time, although her character's presence is a large factor. So it's a deceptive marketing tool to get people to watch the film, but in this case, it may be okay to cheat a little to get people in theaters. L'Auberge Espagnole was nominated for six Cesar Awards (French Oscars), including Best Film, Director, Writer, and Supporting Actress (it only won one) but most people will just think "it has subtitles, ugh" and ignore it. That's too bad, since the film is an amusing look at multiculturalism, college life, friendships, and random other things. The title roughly translates to "Spanish Apartment," but also is phrase denoting a place where "cultures mix like a stew."

The main character is Xavier (Romain Duris, CQ, Osmose), a French economics student who goes to study in Barcelona for a year. He cannot speak Spanish, and his jealous girlfriend Martine (Tautou) doesn't like the idea at all. He lands in an apartment populated by students from other countries like England, Italy, Germany, and Denmark. L'Auberge Espagnole is the type of film where the protagonist discovers all sorts of things about himself and the world in the one year he spends away. Writer/director Cedric Klapisch (Maybe, Le Ramoneur des Lilas) doesn't really do anything new, but manages to do a good job with a familiar story. And rather than turning Xavier's intellectual coming-of-age into a mushy affair, Klapisch throws in some slapstick humor, mostly revolving around cultural misunderstandings.

Xavier's life is actually pretty idyllic. He is always around friends, and away from Martine. He loves the feeling of chaos within his apartment, and is enjoying getting to know Barcelona. To portray the mundanity of Xavier's life before Barcelona, Klapisch speeds up scenes, to show that no one is missing anything. These are usually office conversations or Xavier walking within office buildings. In Barcelona, Klapisch portrays uses multiple split screens to show that there is so much going on at the same time, all of it exciting. He is beginning an affair with Anne-Sophie (Judith Godreche, Quicksand, South Kensington), the lonely wife of a fellow Frenchman and Belgian lesbian housemate Isabelle (Cecile de France, Irene, Loup!) is giving him pointers on how to seduce women. Things are great until William (Kevin Bishop, Food of Love, The Big Finish) arrives. William is British housemate Wendy's (Kelly Reilly, Last Orders, Starched) dumb brother who talks incessantly and makes the sort of broad racial generalizations that all the housemates are trying to eliminate. William gets on the bad side of everybody in the apartment, especially German Tobias (Barnaby Metschurat, Solino, Julietta).

For his part, Bishop's rude performance thoroughly acquits his awful one in Food of Love. Still, the movie belongs to Duris. The Xavier character begins as somebody who is a little stuffy. As a child, he wanted to write, but is now going into a more practical field. His time in Barcelona makes him more fun loving and spontaneous, and this change accompanies Klapisch's gradual change in tone of the film. Not only does his stay in Barcelona open his eyes to new ways at looking at himself, it also opens his eyes to new ways of looking at the world around him. The huge drawback in Klapisch's script is that he focuses on Xavier. The story is full of vibrant characters, some only barely touched upon. Each person is rich enough to merit their own story.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 55 minutes, English, French, Spanish, Danish, and who knows what else, with English subtitles, Rated R for language and sexual content.

Back to Movies