"L'auberge espagnole" was playing at the time I lived in Spain (fall 2002), but somehow I never got around to seeing it. Now, more than a year later after returning home, this charming film made me realize how much I enjoyed my experiences studying in Spain, cherished my friendships with other Erasmus students, and relived the embarrassing "fish out of water" moments that made my stay so memorable.
Directed by Cédric Klapisch, "L'auberge espagnole" tells the tale of Xavier (Romain Duris), a twentysomething Parisian studying economics. Xavier decides to spend a year at the Universitat de Barcelona as an Erasmus student (a university exchange between EU member countries), and along the way he meets an assortment of other European students, locals, and transplanted French (a local at a bar offers to teach him "puta madre" Spanish, which made me laugh out loud.)
Xavier arrives in Barcelona disoriented and brokenhearted at having to leave his girlfriend and the comfort of familiarity behind. Weighted down by a myriad of bags (which brought back plenty of memories of my arriving in Spain similarly loaded down), he wanders the unfamiliar streets, alone and friendless, not speaking either language fluently (Castillano, the official language of Spain, and Catalán, the official language of Catalunya and Barcelona). After ditching the morose boarding accommodations provided by a friend of his hippie mother's, Xavier begins the grueling and expensive task of finding a flat.
His search lands him in a flat with six other Erasmus students: Londoner Wendy (a noted clean freak), Aragonese Soledad, the gorgeous Italian Alessandro, Tobias from Germany, the Dane Lars, and latecomer Isabelle from Belgium. Slowly, Xavier adjusts to his new life: an utter lack of privacy, homesickness for his girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou from Amélie), studying, balanced with the occasional joint and night out clubbing. The seven flatmates generally get along, speaking with each other in English and Spanish. A wrench is thrown into the mix when Wendy's obnoxious brother William (Kevin Bishop) comes to spend two weeks with them and ends up offending everyone.
Xavier also becomes infatuated with the wife of a French doctor working in Barcelona and the two begin an affair. Although he believes himself to be an adequate lover, Xavier is coached by the lesbian Isabelle on how to truly please a woman, and the result, as Xavier says, is "like something from the movies."
The film is beautiful to look at, showcasing the architecture of Gaudí (Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell), the swaying palm trees, blue water and sandy beaches of Barcelona, and Paris at intervals as well. The film's humor is reflected in the editing, "you are here" labels, and special effects. The music is an upbeat mix of new and old that perfectly reflects modern Europe, including contributions by Radiohead, Ali Farka Toure, Vicente Amigo, Kouz-1, Daft Punk and the late Arthur Rubinstein.
My only complaints would be the lack of extras (there was a made-for-TV documentary of the making of (or "making off" as you'll see in France and Spain) the film, European Confusion, not included here), and the rather high price. The DVD contains both the widescreen and fullscreen versions.
Overall, a gem of a film that brought back many happy memories of living in Spain (Burgos, in my case) and made me homesick for the many wonderful people and experiences I had while living there (I hope to teach in Barcelona in the near future). ¡Viva España!