by Marcy Dermansky
There are two things L'Auberge Espagnole cannot qualify as:
Though top billed, French sensation Audrey Tatou ("Amelie") has only a small, supporting role. She plays Martine, the pouty girlfriend of our hero, 25-year old economics student Xavier (Romain Duris) who gives up his girl in order to attend a European foreign exchange program in Barcelona. Tatou's Martine is a disagreable young woman, but she does wear cute sneakers, and in one fleeting but heartbreaking moment, she shares a romantic kiss with our young hero on what he claims is the smallest side walk in Paris. This kiss is worth the price of admission alone.
Cédrick Klapsich's gentle coming of age film in also no art film. Think "American Pie" in Europe, only older, wittier, and ultimately, better. "L'Auberge Espagnole" (which literally translates into the not so sexy title "The Spanish Inn") is a huge hit in France. It won numerous César nominations, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Writing, and topped the European box office charts.
"L'Auberge Espagnole" has no plot to speak of. Xavier goes away for a year, and when his year is up, he goes home. In that time, he moves into an apartment that overtly symbolizes the recent melting pot atmosphere of the European Union; his roommates hail from all over the continent: England, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Denmark. Xavier becomes fluent in a new language. He goes to classes and gets drunk with his roommates; he falls in love with a Belgian lesbian (Cecile De France) and has an affair with a repressed married French woman (Judith Godreche). He experiences his first serious bout of melancholy, and is dumped by his long distance sweetheart. Finally, without intending to, Xavier grows up.
There is nothing exceptional about our hero. Xavier is cute but not wildy
handsome, smart if not wildly intelligent. He is, however, genuinely nice,
and his year looks like fun, and is therefore, fun to watch. Since for
most of us, it is too late to pack a suitcase, spend a year in beautiful
Barcelona, and fall so easily in and out of love, "L'Auberge Espagnole"
is a lovely cinematic diversion.
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