Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
1971, rated R
4 stars

Stanley Kubrick has had an impressive filmmaking career. From 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick has created films that illustrate defining moments in society. Kubrick has made all kinds of films—crazily amusing political commentaries such as Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket, historical thrillers such as Sparticus, horror flicks, with The Shining, and even science fiction, as he formed the concept for A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which Steven Spielberg then took over. Kubrick’s films always stand out, sometimes for creative reasons, sometimes for pure shock value. His 1971 adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange is both extremely creative and extraordinarily shocking.

The story centers around the experiences of teenage hoodlum Alexander de Large (played by a very young, and extremely excellent Malcolm McDowell) who also serves as narrator. Alex and his gang of “droogies” have a nightly ritual of mischief and mayhem, which often includes robbery, rape, and the beating of unsuspecting citizens. Kubrick emphasizes the separation between Alex’s day and nightlife by placing the characters on strange sets in strange locations. The bar that Alex and his gang frequent, for example, looks as if it were taken out of the mind of Salvador Dali. He and his gang all dress in white, and carry walking canes, which they often use for violent purposes. Alex enjoys these nightly pursuits, and the power he has as the leader of his gang, immensely. As a whole, the character of Alex is portrayed as one without any sense of morality. In fact, he seems to be consciously rejecting the moral regulations established by society, openly mocking its rules and breaking down the proverbial walls that surrounds him.

On the surface, his actions may seem disgusting and repulsive, as the sex and violence is rather graphic, and this is exactly the reaction the audience is supposed to have. Although graphic sex and violence is often displayed in films, that represented here is a different type, and is horrible to watch not because it is explicit, but because of its nature. Some may be too appalled by this vulgarity to be able to see past it, and this too is another reaction that Alex’s character is meant to invoke. Kubrick also goes to great lengths to accentuate the absolute offensiveness of these actions. From costumes to sets to camera angles, nearly everything in Alex’s secret night life is made to be surreal, emphasizing the metaphor of the story. Everything is a constant battle between youth, represented by Alex, and the adult society which he must eventually become a part of. Even the language he uses is a direct defiance of his surrounding society. At times almost Shakespearian, his slang becomes almost like a completely separate language, where everyone is addressed as “oh, my brother” and even simple phrases or words become twisted and distorted—words such as “apologies,” which when spoken by Alex turns into “appy polly logies.”

While Alex’s disdain for civilized society is apparent in the offensiveness of his exploits, his character is made more complex with his love of beautiful music, namely Beethoven, which he listens to ceaselessly. This love of music gives another side to his character, by granting him the ability to appreciate beauty in some form. Alex’s endless battle against society, representative of youth’s battle against their elders, is heightened and extended when he is finally caught and placed in prison. When the reforms which prison attempts to instill in him fail to change his behavior, he is used as a test subject for a new program which “cures” the impulse for violence and sex by creating an overriding reaction of disgust. However, during this treatment, while the doctors are ridding Alex of his ability to “do evil,” they also accidentally rid him of his ability to appreciate beauty, in that they also apply this reaction of disgust to when he hears Beethoven. Alex as a person has now been destroyed by a society bent on “fixing” him, trying to force him to conform. He is left a helpless puppet, fully open and vulnerable to the inevitable abuse of his character.

As the film progresses the roles of reliance are constantly switched. At times, society seems to revolve around Alex and his world view, while at others the table is turned, and it is Alex who is now helpless and completely reliant on society and its rules. Kubrick’s artistic abilities have given the story a whole new dimension and meaning, and the impact and message have not diminished in the 33 years since the film’s production. And while it may be difficult to watch at times due to the graphic nature of the sex and violence, the overriding metaphor is timeless. So if you’re looking for a film that’s just completely different, and that will blow your mind, A Clockwork Orange would be an excellent choice…oh my brothers.


The Bourne Supremacy

The Bourne Supremacy
Directed by Paul Greengrass
2004, rated PG-13
3 stars

The days are hot, the nights are short, and summer is almost over. This is a time for rest, leisure, relaxation, wild car chases, and massive explosions. The last two apply of course to summer movie flicks, the fabulous entertainment we all enjoy, because we enjoy not having to think too much once in a while. Summer is absolutely filled with action films that mainly consist of beautiful women, hunky men, fast cars, little or no plot, and explosions galore; without these movies, it just wouldn’t be summer. This season is no exception, and neither is the recent addition to this genre, The Bourne Supremacy, based on the book by Robert Ludlum.

Matt Damon returns as the exceptionally talented, amnesiac CIA hit man Jason Bourne. Bourne cannot remember anything from his former career at the CIA, except for what he remembered in the last movie, The Bourne Identity—which isn’t much. Hiding away in India with his girlfriend, he suddenly gets thrown back into the fray when framed for a murder 3,000 miles away in Berlin, Germany. Bourne jumps into action, whipping out his mad assassin skills to battle and evade those who would dare attempt to eliminate him. When not in full action, Damon makes for a brilliantly deadpan, emotionless Bourne—perfect for this part considering the protagonist’s past and unusual training. What Damon lacks in this movie is a female counterpart. Unfortunately, his girlfriend and costar of the previous film only appears for the first fifteen minutes of this one. Throughout the rest of the film, Damon struggles from scene to scene, location to location, still managing admirably, and able to give a fine show nonetheless. While Joan Allen gives a satisfactory performance as Pamela Landy, the head of the CIA operation that’s trying to track Bourne down, she’s too old and not an interesting enough character to match Bourne. Julia Stiles also gives a good performance as Nicky, the young girl who passed the orders to the assassin agents. She has a slightly larger role than before, but it’s still too miniscule to balance Damon’s overwhelming lead. Perhaps this lack of a love interest is what makes this film slightly less satisfying than its predecessor.

What the movie lacks in love, however, it makes up for in action—awesome stunts, colorful explosions, and absolutely amazing car chases, all helped by excellent cinematography and perfectly chosen music. Most of the movie is filmed with a handheld camera, with quick, shaky movements that echo the entire nature of the film. This technique helps to add frantic action to some scenes, while providing a more personal, intimate feel to others. During the fast-paced, fantastic car chases, the cinematography reflects the frenzied action, with a rapid switching between close-ups of the people, cars, or parts of cars, to shots that encompass the whole of the action—whether that be careening off the side of an underground tunnel, or plunging off the side of a bridge. The well-chosen music also adds to the timbre of each scene, and keeps the film’s tempo and flow. While the score varies according to scene, the music is all very rhythmic, with heavy drum beats, and steady melodies. This helps the movie by pacing it in some places, and adding to the rush of the action in others.

While perhaps not quite as outstanding overall as the first film, The Bourne Supremacy still has its merits. It is an entirely enjoyable summer film, and has some of the best car chases ever. Damon makes for a splendid Bourne, with or without a female sidekick. The ending even sets things up for another sequel, as Bourne is still without his entire memory: he now remembers his very last mission, and his very first mission, but there are still plenty in between for endless future summer entertainment. So, for enjoying the thrills of summer, this movie fits the genre. Time to whip out those mad assassin skills!

Elephant

Elephant
Directed by Gus Van Sant
2003, rated R
4 stars

Summer is often a time for Hollywood to suck in the big bucks by pumping out the typical formulaic movies geared toward a teenage audience with nothing better to do. Explosion filled action flicks devoid of plot, fluffy, romantic chick flicks, and of course, the typical high school drama, so stereotypical and standard, you already know the whole movie, even before seeing the previews. So, if you’re sick of this mindless catering to the high school age group, tired of giving your money away to Hollywood junk out of pure boredom, but you don’t want to have to resort to watching some overly sophisticated Jane Austin adaptation, maybe it’s time for something a little different. Elephant, written and directed by Gus Van Sant, is about as far away from the basic Hollywood as one could hope to get. Elephant, a small, independent film, won both the Palme D’or and the award for best director at the 2003 Cannes film festival. While definitely geared toward teens, this film completely does away with conventional plots. Although some may find this film a little slow and a bit confusing, it’s perfect if you need an escape from the typical mindless entertainment of summer flicks.

Elephant’s title refers to the analogy of there being a problem so large it is like an elephant, but everyone continues to ignore its existence. In this case, the problem results in a Columbine-like school shooting. Many may be turned off upon hearing this plotline; I was. I figured that a movie that readdressed the Columbine issue was unnecessary, and would be presumptuous and uninteresting. How wrong I was. Elephant treats the issue of school shootings as if it has never happened before, and puts it into context in an everyday setting. The way this film is done, the audience really feels like they are at this high school, observing the everyday occurrences of high school life. The movie makes more of a statement about the workings of teenage society than about school shootings, as each character lives in their own little island world, occasionally brushing against one another.

The film has very little dialogue, and as a result, effectively mirrors real-life interactions. Conversation between characters is often simply brief exchanges, and the use of teenage jargon is so complete, the interactions don’t seem scripted at all. The movie’s characters cover a wide range of personalities, from your typical jock to your quiet nerdy girl, the relaxed photo guy to the group of Barbie-like girls. Although they may sound stereotypical, the film presents these characters in such a way that they are easy to identify with; we all know people like this. These characters are not the usual one-dimensional stereotypes, and each are concerned only with their immediate problems. So concerned, in fact, that they don’t see the larger problem growing around them.

These individual worlds are cleanly demonstrated through the excellent cinematography. Most of the time, the camera is following one character or another through the halls of the school, just a step or two behind them, observing their interactions and habits. The scenes jump from one character’s point of view to another, and several scenes are repeated from these different view points. These repeated scenes give an excellent exhibition of the character’s focus, as the viewer notices different things each time from the various views. As this constant switching tends to break with a clear time line, the film first follows one distinct character, John Robinson, through his day, and then uses him as a reference point for all the other characters. While the camera changes from close and intimate to distant and aloof according to the timbre of the scene, the viewer always feels as if they are on the outside, simple observers and bystanders, which allows for an objective feeling to the movie. Unlike most movies, the audience is allowed to make up their own minds about each character, and even the killers are given several dimensions. Each character is a distinct person, not a simple cardboard cutout like so many movie personas. And while some scenes do drag a bit, with long, quiet scenes with not much action, this is another technique the film uses to give the feeling of real life, because in real life, there are quiet, secluded scenes. Even background music is rare, and when it does occur it is quiet and mellow, so as not to detract from the actual film, although some may become annoyed at the repetition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and “Fur Elise.”

Yet, if you happen to be a plot driven, action addict, this is not your film. Elephant does take patience at times, and some may have a hard time following the different character and time changes. Don’t expect a solid resolution either—there is none. The film offers no solutions, and ends even before the shootings are over. It’s completely up to the audience to decide. But for some, this may be a welcome reprieve from the typical summer flick, which usually discourages thought of any kind. So if you happen to be in a quiet, thoughtful mood, Elephant would be a great movie to consider. Then you can go back to the mindless entertainment of Gigli...

Good bye Lenin!

Good Bye Lenin!
Directed by: Wolfgang Becker
2003, Rated R
In German, English subtitles
4 stars

Here in America we movie goers are accustomed to the glitz, glitter, and grandeur of Hollywood’s sleek, shiny films. Once in a while it is good to step outside of the safety zone of major American film making, and take a look at what the rest of the world is doing. While for some this may mean watching the 30 second clips that the Academy Awards show for best foreign film, I recommend a better alternative. Good Bye Lenin! a German film, directed by Wolfgang Becker offers a refreshing break from the plastic glamour of the typical Hollywood film.

Enter the world of communist East Germany. Alex Kerner (Daniel Brühl) is faced with a difficult situation. His mother (Kathrin Sass), a devoted socialist and dedicated member of the communist party, collapsed into a coma right before the fall of the Berlin Wall. When she awakens eight months later, Alex is told that any shock to her system could prove fatal; Alex realizes that his mother wouldn’t be able to handle the news of the collapse of her beloved system. In order to protect his mother, Alex creates a fantasy world around her to keep her believing that nothing has changed.

Perhaps the best aspect of this film is its subtlety. Instead of directly explaining every small detail, the audience is instead often left to infer meaning from the actions of the characters. Delayed camera shots and facial expressions are allowed to fill the natural gaps in dialogue, and can actually imply meaning in a more satisfactory way than an unnatural, blunt explanation would. As a result, the dialogue and interactions are more natural and fluid—not forced. The restrained, soft music aids this tone, and also helps keep the film flowing. Along with the natural subtlety also comes a natural comedy. The comic lines are stated with deadpan brilliance, making them all the more amusing for their restraint. This, of course, can only be accomplished by excellent acting. Brühl and Sass fit perfectly into their respective characters, and are aided by the other talented actors around them. Chulpan Khamatova as Alex’s wonderfully charming, activist girlfriend, and Maria Simon as his sulky older sister Ariane complete the film.

Cinematographically, this film is no masterpiece. It has moments of brilliance, but is inconsistent in maintaining its artistic appeal. The opening scene is spectacular, with old photos of the East German republic overlaying onto each other, piling up just like the lies of that system did. Color is also used extremely well, in this opening sequence, and throughout the film; red is used noticeably as the color of passion, and also as the representative color of the communist party. While the cinematography may not be incredible, however, what Wolfgang Becker manages to do best is demonstrate the good and evil of both societies, east and west. While we laugh at the ridiculous lies told by the communist party, we also understand the attachment to the system felt by Alex and his mother. Their devotion to the system is comprehensible, if slightly fanatical. Becker does an excellent job of showing the emotions connected with the downfall of a system, and the complete change of a society. While Alex is overjoyed at certain of his new freedoms in a united Germany, there is also a strong sense of nostalgia for the old system, and his previous way of life. The devotion he shows to his mother mirrors her devotion to the system, and similarly, the lies he surrounds her with are the same as those of the system.

Overall, this film provides an excellent insight into the complicated politics and emotions of that country at that time, as well as offering a wonderful reprieve from the glitzy plastic of Hollywood filmmaking. So, auf wiedersehen.

Hero

Hero
Directed by Yimou Zhang
2002, rated PG-13
4 stars
Chinese with English subtitles

Martial arts films have always been popular in American film culture. Actors like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee built their careers on America’s love of Asian fighting. More recently, films like The Matrix and other American action flicks have used sequences and choreography based on martial arts fighting styles. The year 2000 saw a rebirth of martial arts films centered on and originating from Asia, with the immensely popular Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which incorporated fantasy and myth into its beautifully choreographed fights, giving its characters the ability to fly. In 2002, another such film was created, focusing again on the beauty of choreography and imagery. Hero, directed by Yimou Zhang, originally released in China in 2002, has only recently opened in American theaters.

Everything about this film is beautifully done. Everything is artful and striking, from the scenery and the costumes to the manner in which the story is told. The story takes place in ancient China, when the country was split into seven separate warring nations, and centers around a nameless warrior, played by Jet Li. The king of one of the seven nations (played by Daoming Chen) is determined to conquer the other six and form one unified country. This goal, however, has made him the target of many assassination attempts from individuals who wish to defend their countries from invasion. Nameless (Li) has been invited to this king’s palace as an honor for defeating the three most dangerous assassins to the king: Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Wai), and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). As Nameless begins to tell his story of how he defeated these three masters, the story begins to unfold in beautiful layers of color and meaning.

Color is the most important part of Hero and is used to define everything from emotions to levels of truth. The story of Nameless’ victory over the three assassins is told in three different ways, each with a different level of truth, and each heavy with distinctly diverse emotions. The first story is the most embellished and untrue, with amazingly choreographed, but wholly unbelievable fight scenes—it is in this first story that the characters do most of their flying. Nameless, when telling this story, also gives its characters passionate and violent emotions. He invents a love triangle between the three assassins, and makes them out to be wildly jealous and emotionally impulsive. Consequently, the characters are all dressed in a bright, stunning red, reflecting their passion, and also, being the brightest color used, reflecting the blatancy of the lie. They are placed in brightly colored settings as well, like forests with deep orange autumn leaves. The next story is told by the king, who does not believe Nameless’ lie. The king gives the assassins more tranquil and controlled personalities—although the story is still embellished some with flying and such, since it is only a guess on the part of the king. Thus, the characters are now in brilliant blue, and set under blue skies, and next to clear blue lakes. The final story revealed is the truth, with the characters in white, to reflect the purity and truth, and also their pure intentions. This white also serves as a contrast against the king and his armies—at the palace, literally millions of black-robed courtiers gather to advise and counsel the king, and similarly, his army is comprised of rows upon rows of fierce, black-armored, terracotta-like warriors.

The film is simply beautiful to watch. The fight sequences are fascinating, beautifully choreographed and artfully filmed, with creative camera shots coming from under water, on top of high buildings, or just framing the scene with a well placed budding branch. Some parts of the film do go a little over the top, with the previously mentioned flying, and candles that can sense a murderous intent. In some ways the film even seems a little like Chinese propaganda in the conclusion. However, the amazing martial art sequences and overall beauty of the film completely make up for these slight shortcomings. Unlike Neo in The Matrix, these guys really do know Kung Fu.

I, Robot

I, Robot
Directed by Alex Proyas
2004, rated PG-13
4 stars

Several sci-fi, robot-type, futuristic movies have been made in recent years. Some of them have failed, such as Steven Spielberg’s and the late Stanly Kubrik’s surprisingly dull AI, and others have flourished, such as the immensely popular and much copied Matrix, which spawned two sequels. This summer sees the release of yet another of these action-filled future flicks. I, Robot, directed by Alex Proyas, however, is more than your average mindless summer flick. With an interesting plot, twists and turns, good acting, and excellent graphics and cinematography, this movie rises above the typical stereotype sci-fi.

As with most movies, the opening sequence sets the tone of the movie. The movie opens with the three laws of robotics, around which the whole of the film revolves. These three laws basically state that 1) no robot can harm a human, 2) a robot must obey an order by a human, as long as it doesn’t violate the first law and 3) a robot must act to save itself, as long as the action doesn’t violate the first or second laws. This forms a perfect circle, completely fool-proof in its safety. Although these laws are repeated frequently throughout the film—about every 5 minutes, just in case we forget—this sequence showing the three laws really sets the stage for the film. The rest of the movie is just as artfully composed as the commencement. While audiences have grown accustomed to computer-generated stunts and images, the effects in this movie are truly stunning. From the dramatic high-speed chases down to the minute details of subtle robotic facial expressions, it’s easy to forget that it’s all digital. Audiences will enjoy the dizzying effect of a thousand-robot army standing in perfect formation, or the spectacular sight of a multitude of evil robots swarming up the side of an immensely tall sky scraper. In this computer-generated masterpiece, there is never a dull or aesthetically unpleasant moment.

As Del Spooner, a homicide detective, Will Smith returns to his typical role of the bring-em-down, underappreciated, cocky, average-guy cop. But if Smith has already overplayed this role, it can be excused, because in this film it fits; Smith has this act down to perfection. This cowboy cop has a serious chip on his shoulder toward the overly helpful, utterly logical, and perfectly safe multitude of artificially intelligent robots that roam the streets acting as servants and good Samaritans to the human race. Why Smith has this icy attitude toward these robot friends is part of the intrigue and moral of the plot, and gets fully explained later in the film. As Smith follows the trail of clues left for him by the death of robotics designer Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), he encounters the logical psychologist Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan). Moynahan’s acting can turn rather robotic at times; whether this is intentional or not is not revealed in this film. But where Moynahan lacks spark and charisma, Smith makes up for it in excess. Her lack of surprise or emotion is mirrored by his overabundance. These two extremes work, however, and the film still moves along nicely.

While the premise of the plot is intriguing, the way it was developed left something to be desired. Which is not to say that it was uninteresting. The concept of a flaw in apparently “perfect” logic could have been fascinating, had it been more thoroughly explored. What the movie seemed to explore more, however, was the threat of artificial intelligence, and the theme of evil robots taking over the human race has just been overdone in recent years. While the plot may not have been ultra deep or intellectually stimulating, the use of foreshadowing and the ultimate red herring was masterful. With thrilling images of robot dominance and not-so-subtle hints, the plot moves along at a pleasantly fast pace, and keeps the audience interested from one clue to the next, right up to the truly surprising twist at the end.

Overall, this is a thrilling summer movie that any audience could find enjoyable. The action-packed, sci-fi intrigue and the occasionally thought-provoking premise make for an extremely pleasurable summer film. Go get ‘em, Will.

Maria Full of Grace

Maria Full of Grace
Directed by: Joshua Marston
2004, rated R
5 stars
Spanish with English subtitles

Most movies about the drug trade concern themselves solely with the drugs and the effects that they have on the people who use them. Films like Requiem for a Dream, Blow, and Traffic all focus on the issue of drug use, in connection with the drug trade. This year sees the release of a film that concentrates specifically on the drug trade, and more specifically, on the innocent people who get ensnared by it. Maria Full of Grace, directed by Joshua Marston, centers on the young Colombian women who are used as “mules” to import illegal drugs into the United States. The story is so focused on these women and their stories that not once in the entire film does any character actually use the drugs that are transported.

Maria Alvarez, perfectly played by Catalina Sandino Morena, is a seventeen-year-old Colombian girl working a dead-end job in an industrial rose plantation. Maria’s meager earnings help subsidize her family, consisting of her grandmother, mother, sister, and her sister’s illegitimate baby. Maria’s strong-willed personality, however, soon gets her into trouble with her boss, resulting in her quitting her job. Finding herself pregnant with the child of a boyfriend with whom she has no intention of remaining, and with the growing family obligations and pressure that surround her, she becomes tempted by the substantial amount of money that being a “mule” would promise. She accepts the extremely dangerous job of swallowing 60 or more 10-gram pellets full of heroin and transporting them to the United States. Her new boss, played superbly by Jaime Osorio Gomez, soothingly instructs her on the conduct required and rules to follow on the venture, appearing for all the world as a caring paternal figure—until he gently reminds her that should any one of the pellets go missing along the way, then he would be forced to pay a very ungentle visit to her family. Despite Maria’s protests, her best friend, Blanca, played by Yenny Paola, also takes a job as a mule. What sounded like such a simple plan in the mild words of their boss soon turns into a nightmare of an experience when the girls reach New York City. As one of the other girls disappears, the terrified Maria and Blanca decide to take the pellets and run. Not understanding a word of English, the only person to whom they can turn is to the sister of the missing girl. Carla, (Patricia Rae), who lives in New York City, but whom the two girls have never met, is skeptical at their insistence that they were close friends of her sister, but eventually allows them to stay in her tiny apartment. Through Carla they encounter friendly figures, such as the genuinely paternal Don Fernando (Orlando Tobon), who offers to find them reasonable work and an inexpensive apartment. Their experiences give them a glimpse of the possibilities of America. Each girl weighs the decisions carefully and in the end, each chooses a different path.

The compelling story is truly what makes Maria Full of Grace so captivating. The film doesn’t clutter itself with unrealistic action or dramatic suspense. It presents the girls’ story in as simple, believable, and utterly realistic manner as possible. Nothing is glamorized or seems at all false. Everything from the acting to the cinematography is as natural and real as if the audience were simply looking through a window, catching a glimpse of another, largely unknown part of life. The sharp contrasts made between the poverty and third-world nature of the Colombian city of Bogotá and the crowded, skyscraper-filled, busy-ness of New York are astounding, and the audience can really feel both the alienation and alluring appeal that both girls feel in their new environment. This glance at the difficult decisions that must be made, and the realization that the type of extortion presented in the film actually happens, makes the story incredibly interesting and absorbing. Here is the real reality… and it’s much more interesting to watch than Survivor.

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!