L’auberge espagnole (2002)
A film about European students, maybe made for European students, but to be enjoyed by all. This is classic 90s indie cinema. You can smell the dial up. Freeze frames, rewound shots, sped up footage. It was a decade that decided to break all the rules. Xavier (Romain Duris) is after a job in finance, but needs to improve his none existent Spanish linguistics. So he leaves Paris, headed for Barcelona on the Erasmus programme. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m watching this in lockdown, maybe it’s that I’m still sad that the idiots voted us out of the EU, but damn it’s good to watch someone move to and discover a new city for the first time. That excitement, that slightly fearful buzz that’s full of possibility. It’s clearly shot with a lofi DIY aesthetic, maybe for budget reasons but it gives it a really honest feel. Loose cameras, loads of montage shots, real life going on in the frame, those aren’t extras in the background gawking at the crew. Xavier arrives in Barcelona, finds his accommodation is less than desirable and sets about finding somewhere new. After a short stay with a couple he meets on the plane. He finds is an apartment shared with 6 others. Italian, British, Spanish, German, Danish, Belgian. Perfect for telling a story about identity, finding it and understanding how it works within a group. It’s a beautiful chaos, just like the EU. The characters are all amazing, so rich, so raw. Emotions worn on sleeves. Xavier’s emotions are tested as he leaves behind his girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou). Writing letters, short visits, it reminded me of doing the very same long distance relationship, before social media, zoom calls, the internet as we know it... still dial up remember. It’s heartbreaking in places, exhilarating in others. Paris and Barcelona both serving as perfect settings. A love letter to adventure. Watching now, it’s a nostalgia trip of multicoloured iMacs, Radiohead songs, mobile phones with physical buttons. But as should be, it’s the characters that’s its core. The ensemble cast all have their part to play, even British student Wendy’s casually racist brother. It’s Xavier that’s the focus though. His complicated love life, feelings of being lost and unanchored, confused by fleeting distractions. A film about life, having and taking the time to figure out who and where you want to be. His year aboard at its end, Xavier has choices to make as we’re left with our own sense of loss that the adventure is ending. Thankfully this is the first in what was to become a trilogy for director Cédric Klapisch. I can’t wait to revisit these characters again, but this sets the bar very high.