L'Auberge Espagnole (2002) / Comedy-Drama
aka Euro Pudding
aka The Spanish Apartment
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content and language
Running Time: 122 min.
Cast: Romain Duris, Judith Godreche, Audrey Tautou, Cecile de France, Kelly Reilley, Cristina Brondo, Federico D'Anna, Barnaby Metschurat, Kevin Bishop, Xavier De Guillebon, Wladimir Yordanoff
Director: Cedric Klapisch
Screenplay: Cedric Klapisch
Review published November 16, 2003
Seeming very much like a dramatic, travelogue version of MTV's "Real World", L'Auberge Espagnole (which literally translates as "The Spanish Inn", figuratively as "Euro Pudding", but is often titled in English as the more accurately represented, The Spanish Apartment) presents a hodge-podge of people with different backgrounds living together, finding common ground while occasionally offending each others sensibilities. However, unlike its television counterpart, this isn't designed to play as simulated reality, although it does try to capture a bit of slice-of-life within the context of its multi-character storyline.
Xavier (Duris, Le Divorce) is a young French student sent to Barcelona on a student exchange program, studying Spanish and economics. He leaves his adoring girlfriend Martine (Tautou, He Loves Me...He Loves Me Not) behind, pledging to stay close despite their physical distance. He searches for a place to live, mostly in vain, but a local French brain surgeon and his repressed wife take him in in the meantime. Eventually, Xavier finds a place living with other exchange students like himself, all from different parts of Europe with distinct dialects and world views. It's a bit awkward at first, but soon Xavier begins to find his niche, but his distance from his girlfriend soon has him thinking about some of the women around him, in particular, the neurosurgeon's wife, Anne-Sophie (Godreche, Entopy).
From the get-go, L'Auberge Espagnole is crafted to be a visually arresting, zesty film that seeks to do little more than to entertain and titillate for it's two-hour running time. For the most part, it succeeds, with amusing characterizations and a zippy sense of style that holds the viewer's interest with competent flair. The Europe portrayed is no longer the segregated establishment it once was, but rather, a melting pot of all walks of life, with the dividing lines blurred. Much of the entertainment comes in the form of misunderstandings between the cultures and languages, and how various groups within Europe will use language to exclude certain groups from understanding or participating in the conversations.
As fun as L'Auberge Espagnole mostly is, it begins to overstay its welcome. For a film that clocks in over two hours in length, there's very little substantive content to justify the duration, and just at the point when satiety is reached, the film devolves into an unattractive side jaunt where Xavier has a yen to get laid, heedless of personal consequences. The problem is that Xavier is probably the least interesting character of this ensemble cast, and when he is on his own, apart from mingling with the others in the apartment, the movie is not quite as interesting, and his self-indulgent lusts and sulking aftermath eventually makes the final half hour sag. Luckily, writer/director Klapisch (When the Cat's Away) does manage to save things in the end with the well-crafted final scenes.
L'Auberge Espagnole is an aesthetics-over-substance film that should please those armchair tourists who like to watch films more for the exotic tidbits about the foreign locales much more than for those interested in the actual story itself. Klapisch is very much at home crafting good characterizations and mixing things up with many snapshots with an outsider's eye to Barcelona, both in the apartment and the scenes of the streets. Like any trip that lasts a little too long, once you've seen all there is to see, tedium does begin to creep in. However, as vapid as it may be accused of being, it might have the benefit of opening up the younger set to more subtitled European films, as it's one of the most accessible productions for the MTV-generation sinceRun Lola Run.
©2003 Vince Leo