L’Auberge Espagnole (2003), from France, is a coming-of-age story concerning Xavier (Romain Duris), an amiable French fool who moves to Barcelona for a year to study global economics. The first proof that he is a fool, however inexperienced in life he is, is his willingness to cheat on lovely Audrey Tautou, his Parisian girlfriend—and to do so with a married woman!
In the great Catalan city, Xavier is selected for tenancy in a modest apartment by the other, European inhabitants of the apartment: a German, a Spaniard, an Italian, a Dane. There are also a Belgian lesbian and an English girl, Wendy, who like Xavier ends up cheating on a lover back home. If you suspect that the apartment is a metaphor for the European Union, you know French thinking, and possibly the thinking of writer-director Cedric Klapisch.
For a long time Klapisch’s film is a good one. What’s finally wrong with it is that nearly all the vicissitudes and infidelity are followed by easy resolutions, quick reconciliations. Xavier even gets to be not the businessman he didn’t wish to become but (oh dear) the professional writer he does. Regarding the political point, Klapisch lets go of art and pushes pro-EU propaganda. The bouncy pleasures of L’Auberge come to a screeching halt with the way Klapisch wraps it all up, even tossing in a jot of meaningless anti-Americanism. If the dear man wants to be anti-American, that is his right; but meaninglessness is meaninglessness.
Klapisch’s directing is lively and loose but not too loose. He concentrates on getting as much out of a scene or sequence as he can, without blatancy. So slapdash is his screenplay, however, that most of the European students Xavier lives with are stick figures; only Wendy, her visiting brother, and the lesbian are not. I’m surprised the diversity-loving Klapisch didn’t do more with them. His deficiencies as an artist—and, yes, he is an artist—are many.
(Mostly in French with English subtitles.)