L'Auberge Espagnole

2003, Movie, R, 117 mins


Cedric Klapisch's exuberant romantic comedy, which follows a young French student to Barcelona, where he learns more about the human heart than the Spanish tongue, is next best thing to a year abroad. Angling for a position at the French Finance Ministry, Xavier (Romain Duris) is advised by a highly placed family friend that if he goes back to school and earns a degree in Spanish economics, Xavier can easily land a job. But Xavier will first have to learn Spanish, which of course means a spending a year in Spain. Xavier has already shelved his dream of becoming a writer, so he signs up for the Erasmus European exchange program, bids farewell to his girlfriend, Martine (Audrey Tautou), and boards a plane for Barcelona. At the baggage claim, Xavier meets obnoxious French neurologist Jean Michel (Xavier de Guillebon) and his beautiful but sheltered wife, Anne Sophie (Judith Godreche), newlyweds with a chic apartment in town. After spending a few nights on their couch, Xavier moves into a lively rooming house filled with fellow Erasmus students, all of whom are studying at the University of Barcelona when they're not home bickering over the dishes in the sink or the food in the fridge. Xavier writes passionate letters to Martine, but as the strange city begins to cast its spell and Xavier feels more at home, his thoughts begin to wander. Jean Michel asks him to show Anne Sophie around town — a sure-fire recipe for cuckoldry — and Xavier soon develops a crush on Belgian exchange student Isabelle (Cecile de France), who has little romantic interest in Xavier — or men at all, for that matter. True to the tradition of l'education sentimentale, Xavier is a bit of a solipsistic rogue, but Duris has enough personal charm to smooth over his character's rather self-serving attitude towards the women in his life. With the exception of Wendy (Kelly Reilly), who comes across as a brittle, uptight prig (a typical Frenchman's idea of what Englishwomen are like), and Wendy's crass, laddish brother, William (Kevin Bishop), few of Xavier's housemates are given more than a name and a country of origin to make their scraps of storyline interesting. But no matter: The real stars of the film are Francois Emmanuelli's vibrant production design, Klapisch's flair with inventive optical effects and above all Barcelona itself, captured here in all its baroque brilliance. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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