Sunday, January 23, 2005

L'auberge Espagnole

L’auberge Espagnole
Directed by: Cédric Klapisch
2002, Rated R
5 stars
French/Spanish/English
English subtitles

Coming of Age is a popular theme in film, and has been played out in many different ways. Often, this type of film is geared toward those who are, or will be, coming of age—namely teenagers and young adults. The most frequent and easily recognizable manner in which this theme is carried out is in the typical mindless high school/college teen flick. The plot of these movies is so generic and unrealistic that it almost buries the moral message the film may be attempting to convey. The assumption apparently is that teenagers are so completely brain-dead that only the most basic of storylines could keep us entertained for any amount of time. There is one film, however, that is geared toward teenagers, but maintains the complexity of a quality film—go figure it’s from another country. L’auberge Espagnole, directed by Cédric Klapisch, does not just cover one perspective from one foreign country; it covers the universal concerns which challenge young adults everywhere.

Produced by a French company, the main character, Xavier (Romain Duris), is French. However, the film takes place in Spain, where Xavier is an exchange student. The apartment in which Xavier finds himself is also inhabited by: an Italian, Alessandro (Federico D’Anna); a German, Tobias (Barnaby Metschurat); two Danes, Lars (Christian Pagh) and Isabelle (Cécile De France); a Brit, Wendy (Kelly Reilly); and a Spaniard, Soledad (Cristina Brondo). So, in this one small apartment, essentially all of Europe is gathered together. The film then, of course, often jumps between the multitude of languages: French, Spanish, English, Italian, German, and even Flemish. The apartment, therefore, stands as a metaphor for the European Union which Europe is attempting to form, with each individual country coming together to form a whole, cohesive unit, while at the same time still maintaining their own separate identities and culture. This concept of identity and the required respect toward it also comes into play in the relationships between the two sexes. While a certain amount of comfort is reached in the apartment between the men and women, there are also moments when the stereotypical differences arise between them. As Wendy desperately attempts to force her male roommates into helping with the housework, the guys decide to block out their problems by sinking into a constant state of vegetation in front of the television.

The film mainly follows the thoughts and actions of Xavier, exploring through him the complicated emotions involved in that stage of life. Xavier’s confused thoughts are demonstrated by the overlapping voiceover that serves as narrator throughout the movie. At times, just following Xavier gives the film a documentary-like style, which then mocks itself by comically altering the speed of otherwise uninteresting interactions between characters. At times scenes can turn slightly chaotic, trying to follow too many people at once, but Klapisch deals with this by splitting the screen into smaller sections in order to show each character’s progress, effectively breaking down the chaos into smaller, easier-to-handle pieces.

The comical interactions between characters, coupled with the conflicts that arise between the difference of sexes and nationalities come together to create a masterful montage of images and emotions. On all levels L’auberge Espagnole is a wonderful film. On the surface it is witty, comical, and interesting. And under all this lies important messages regarding identity, tolerance, and the ever popular morals of the coming of age story. So sit down, and prepare yourself for this globally European experience. Olé!

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