As a second year undergraduate studying Law with French, my Erasmus year is fast approaching, and what better way to get a flavour of what to expect than by giving the 2002 César award-winning film, L’auberge espagnole, a watch? I can safely say that if my year abroad is anything as fast-paced, exciting and diverse as the film, I’ll be vraiment contente indeed.
The film follows Xavier (Romain Duris), a hard-working Economics student. With the dry and slightly bland intention of improving his job prospects, Xavier decides to embark on an Erasmus year in Barcelona, despite the objections of his somewhat needy girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou). Whilst at the airport Xavier chances upon a friendly French doctor and his wife, Anne-Sophie (Judith Godrèche), the latter of which provides her and Xavier with significant romantic complications. Xavier shares his Erasums experience and flat with 5 other students from various northern European countries; this means that English is spoken throughout the film as a common language, as well as French, Spanish and even a little Danish – très européenne.
Much of the film centres on love, friendship and happiness overcoming perceived cultural and class barriers, which reflects the Erasmus concept itself: a time of plunging into a different way of life and of self-discovery through meeting people from diverse backgrounds. Although not every experience is positive, generally the year provides Xavier with a fresh outlook on his future – the final scene truly marks the end of the bookish, shy boy we see at the start. This is further reflected in the film’s title, a French expression roughly equivalent to the English phrase ‘you reap what you sow’.
The film’s lively, youthful feel is strengthened by director Cédric Klapisch’s use of voiceovers, fantasy scenes and quirky editing, which complements the fun-loving personalities of the 20-something Europeans perfectly. The soundtrack adds to the melting-pot feel with tunes from the likes of Radiohead, Daft Punk and the super catchy Europop gem, ‘Que Viva La Noche’ by Spanish duo Sonia & Selena.
The one thing I found slightly disappointing was the selection of stereotypical misconceptions being wheeled out, adding a crude comedic value to the film. These were often portrayed through English student Wendy’s laddish brother William (Kevin Bishop), who comes to visit his sister part way through the film. A particularly awkward scene culminates in William Nazi-saluting German student Tobias (Barnaby Metschurat).
Overall, the film was a joy to watch, and, with a running time of 1 hour 55 minutes, it felt like it ended at the right moment. I’m now looking forward to seeing the remaining two films in the Spanish Apartment trilogy, which continue following Xavier as he navigates his way through life after Erasmus.