I talked to my French teacher (who I discuss all the French films I see with) after seeing Cedric Klapisch's "L'Auberge Espagnole". He told me that when he was in college, he was a part of the "Erasmus" foreign exchange program featured in the movie. Jokingly, I asked him if he had visions of the explorer Erasmus (like the lead, Romain Duris, does). "No", he said, "I had visions of parties."
So maybe Xavier (Romain Duris) isn't as "normal" as he's painted to be. Even so, "L'Auberge Espagnole" is a party; I can't think of any film out in theaters now that's anywhere near as festive as this. Even if it doesn't inspire nostalgia, which it is bound to do for anyone who's ever traveled abroad for school or even shared an apartment, "L'Auberge" should be able to get even the most uptight viewers (from a huge variety of age groups, I might add) to lighten up.
Xavier, through swarms of red tape, opts to study abroad in Barcelona. After a tearful goodbye to his girlfriend (Audrey Tautou) and his mother (Martine Demaret), he arrives in Barcelona confused and more than a little lost. He meets a newlywed couple, one of who looks just as lost as he is (Anne-Sophie, played by Judith Godreche). They offer him a place to stay while he looks for an apartment.
And does he find an apartment. It's shared between four people: Wendy (Kelly Reilly), Lars (Christian Pagh), Tobias (Barnaby Metschurat), Soledad (Ccristina Brondo) and Alessandro (Federico D'Anna). They're from all different countries and all have a sense of camaraderie; they manage to leave an impression on Xavier, who gets the apartment, but not before questions like "Where do you expect your life to be in about five years?" (which of course leads to bickering within the group) and "Do you like ponies?" He puts in a good word for Isabelle (Cecile De France), a friend from his university, who also joins the group. Plot twists ensue, but those I'll leave for you to find out.
"L'Auberge Espagnole", on one level, is certainly optimistic about world affairs; specifically within Europe. If you like, Klapisch could well be commenting on the European Union: if these six can get along, why can't their respective countries? But before it gets too happy-go-lucky, amongst other things a new character is introduced: Wendy's brother William (Kevin Bishop), who kicks the film firmly in the ass, sprouting out stereotypes that reach somewhat surprising levels. It increases comic tension to the point where it could even be shocking (think of how underrated the element of surprise is in modern film comedy).
But while "L'Auberge" thinks internationally, it's clear whose eyes we're seeing this from. Cedric Klpaisch's world is constantly vibrant, young, and alive. "L'Auberge" is an impulsive joyride: If something could be done by any of the characters, count on it happening. If Klapisch is finding a scene too slow, or feeling that anything could even remotely be construed as boring, he'll cut mere seconds, fast forward through ten minute chunks of material without losing any of the charm or hilarity.
"L'Auberge Espagnole" deserves to see the kind of success that "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" saw last year. If that's a bit of wishful thinking, no worries; I can tell you with confidence that this definitely something worth spending your eight bucks on. At the very least, foreign exchange boards must be pleased: what an advertisement for travel abroad!