Film Title: L’Auberge Espagnole
Director: Cédric Klapisch
Starring: Romain Duris
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Running Time: 122 min
A place where you can only eat what you brought. A place or a situation where you only find what you brought. That’s the meaning of the French expression L’Auberge Espagnole, literally ‘The Spanish Inn’.
When this French movie was released in 2002, Europe was living the golden age of the Erasmus programme, launched 14 years earlier. Academics and journalists at the time had already started using enthusiastic words such as ‘cultural phenomenon’ or ‘Erasmus generation’.
How things have changed. After having moved around Europe over 5 million students, the programme was threatened by national governments’ cuts, and it’s currently looking for more funds in order to survive.
Moreover, the stereotypical definition of the ‘Erasmus generation’ has become the one of a bunch of people spending a year of their studies drinking and partying all the time – since they need just a pass for their exams, or even less than that. A quite powerful weapon in the hands of those who oppose further funding.
However, things were not that different in 2002, as the general picture of Erasmus students that emerges from the movie demonstrates.
Xavier, the main character, is a 24-year-old man who leaves on Erasmus for Spain to acquire the skills required for a potential job offered by a friend of his father at the prestigious French Ministry of Finances.
He spends an entire year in Barcelona, far from his girlfriend Martine, sharing an apartment with other European students, from Belgium, England, Denmark, Italy and Spain. He faces with them linguistic issues (some university lectures are held in Catalan instead of Spanish), but also sentimental problems and other more practical complications (the landlord of the apartment is not very happy of the tenants). The different stories of Xavier and his roommates (which include betrayals, misunderstandings, fights, and even lesbo relationships) intertwine with a lively and pleasant narrative rhythm.
Overall, Xavier’s year abroad is depicted through a lot of parties, crazy drinking nights and sexual affairs (at the end he will seduce and sleep with a much older woman, cheating on his girlfriend).
A peculiarity of this movie is the wide use of the ‘split screen’ technique, where the screen is divided in multiple rectangles that allow the viewer to follow events happening at the same time in different locations.
There are no big names in the cast, apart from Audrey Tautou, the French actress who played as the main character in Amélie and at the side of Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code.
The director, Cédric Klapisch, is principally known for this movie and its sequel, The Russian Dolls.
A modest production, with a budget of five million euro, it managed to earn more than 31 million dollars at the box office.
It is not what could be described as an outstanding movie, but it is certainly a very popular one, and also because of this it scores three or even four out of five well-deserved stars in most reviews.
Entertaining, young, a bit experimental. Just like the Erasmus generation.