L'Auberge Espagnole
review by Dan Lybarger, 6 June 2003

Seattle International Film Festival 2003

French writer-director Cédric Klapisch's movies are fun to watch because he's got a gift for achieving a seemingly impossible balance. He can vividly capture the uniqueness of his locales (like Paris or Barcelona) but make his stories appealingly universal.

In When the Cat's Away, he shot in Parisian neighborhoods where camera crews usually avoid, giving the film's neighborhood a sort of hometown feel. Yet, many of his characters have stresses and setbacks that seem quite familiar on this side of the pond.

That's certainly true of his 2002 hit L'auberge espagnole.

The title, meaning literally "Spanish Inn or Tavern," is also French slang for "free for all" and makes a nod to the mostly Catalan setting for the tale. Klapisch manages to maintain a loose atmosphere without falling into incoherence. There are dozens of characters, intentionally confusing situations and a notably disorienting atmosphere.

Fortunately, most of the film is told from the point of view of a sad but earnest Parisian college student named Xavier (Klapisch regular Romain Duris). Xavier isn’t sure what to do with himself now that his school days are almost through, but his father has a lead on a possible job with the European government involving the Spanish economy. To be eligible, he needs to take a master’s course in Barcelona for a year. This is unsettling for his demanding girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou, who’s as prickly as she was lovable in Amélie) and nearly traumatic for his smothering mom (Martine Demaret).

Xavier finds the application for the Erasmus scholarship he received overwhelming. Longing for a simpler life, he quickly discovers that Barcelona offers nothing of the sort.

With only a rudimentary grasp of Spanish, Xavier quickly learns that he and other newcomers to Spain suffer because they only know the Castilian dialect (the one spoken around Madrid) and not the local Catalonian tongue spoken locally.

The only living arrangements he can make are with a group of fellow international students including an English girl named Wendy (Kelly Reilly), the Spanish Soledad (Cristina Brondo), a Dane named Lars (Christian Pagh), and an Italian named Allesandro (Federico D’Anna). The group communicates through a smattering of English, and answering the phone when relatives call can be tricky. They also have to deal with the fact that each has a different standard of cleanliness (Wendy’s is considerably higher than everyone else’s).

When their landlord raises their rent, they even have to bring in Isabelle (Cécile De France, who won a Most Promising Actress César, or French Oscar), a Belgian whom Xavier fancies.

Things get dicier as Xavier gradually befriends Anne-Sophie, a lonely fellow French exile (Judith Godrèche, Ridicule) with a workaholic husband. With a spouse who’s so into his neurology gig that he uses his breakfast to demonstrate brain functionality, it’s easy to see why she’d rather spend her ample free time with the affectionate and deeply confused Xavier.

Klapisch and the cast manage to keep all of these folks distinct and likable. One thing that helps is that their Barcelona experiences are like what many experience in college in any part of the world. Xavier’s initial disorientation gives way to a keen survival instinct that Anne-Sophie lacks. Many incidents like the collapsing long distance relationships that Xavier and his roommates suffer are ones that just about anyone can go through.

Klapisch also uses an interesting “form follows function” approach to the narrative. His time lapse shots of Xavier going from office to office might be a little cheesy, but they give the impression of his boredom without spreading it to the audience. Klapisch also finds inventive ways to indicate how mountainous the paperwork is for Xavier’s scholarship or how easy it is to get lost in a big city.

L’Auberge Espagnole is shot in High Definition or HD, a digital format that seems well suited for the locale. Barcelona’s brightly painted buildings seem to glow incandescently. While it’s hardly a death knell to film, L’Auberge Espagnole demonstrates you can make a great looking movie even if it wasn’t shot on 35 mm film.

Despite the multitude of languages (conversations start in one and end in others) and the number of subplots, subtitles often feel optional in L’Auberge espagnole. Klapisch and his cast can communicate a lot of information about the characters without the dialogue. Unlike some European filmmakers, Klapisch genuinely seems to like his characters, and that affection reaches beyond just about any language barrier.

Seattle International Film Festival:



Written and
Directed by:

Cédric Klapisch

Romain Duris
Judith Godrèche
Audrey Tautou
Cécile De France
Kelly Reilly
Cristina Brondo
Federico D'Anna
Barnaby Metschurat
Kevin Bishop
Xavier De Guillebon
Wladimir Yordanoff
Irene Montalà
Javier Coromina
Iddo Goldberg
Martine Demaret

R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
parent or adult







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