Movie Reviews
11:27 am
Fri May 23, 2003

L'Auberge Espagnole

The film is alive with change.

I have long been torn between Madrid and Barcelona, the former a dignified repository of old Spanish architecture and customs (a Catholic parade at 11 PM!) and the latter a Ramblas-rambunctious splash of youth and energy (Oh, that Olympic harbor!). C?dric Klapisch's "L'Auberge Espagnole"("Euro pudding") now tips the scales to Barcelona for me as I watch a group of 20 somethings negotiate life in a communal apartment. They represent the emerging melting pot of Europe, learning each other's language and purging themselves of racism and sexism. The film is alive with change.

Protagonist Xavier (Romain Duris) is moving from Paris (a city against its type here--repressive and decidedly unromantic) to Barcelona for a year in order to qualify for a business job that demands immediate experience in Spain. Leaving his girlfriend (Audrey Tautou) and his hippie mother behind, he witnesses love in forms his shy French persona would have never encountered, including adultery and lesbianism. That he will be different, more urbane and wise, is preordained by the decision to move; that the director wishes us to see the allegory of a polyglot Europe is all too obvious.

But the photography through the narrow streets, even in the barrios, is muscular and lyrical, especially when it takes us all to the top of the Gaudi Cathedral to survey the messy world below (Xavier eventually comments the world is "badly made").

Beyond my affection for Spain, this film reaffirms for me the salutary effect travel has on the uncertain heart. After one year on his own, Xavier is ready to make a serious decision, but not about Paris vs. Barcelona--it's whether the corporate world that started this string of events is the one he wants or the artful one in his heart. Tennyson's Ulysses says, "I cannot rest from travel." Xavier, on the other hand, found his rest in travel.