Dir. Cedric Klapisch. France-Spain. 115mins.
The latest ensemble piece by French director Cedric Klapisch possesses as much promise as his 1996 breakthrough number, When The Cat's Away. Warmly received in France, where it is playing on 398 screens and has registered 1.2m admissions ($6.24m) after three weeks, this featherweight comedy explores, as its English title bluntly states pretty bluntly, the new face of Europe and the future in store for its next generation. Klapisch uses a Barcelona flat inhabited by seven students in their early twenties, each from a different European country, as a mini-lab to display the similarities and differences between the various nations and their chances of getting along together. While the film is not particularly substantial at times, thematically it provides the right blend of sex, youthful charm and insouciance usually associated with French comedies these days. Whether it will be as persuasive in another language, remains to be seen: the original French title L'Auberge Espagnole is far more enticing than the lame one chosen for the film in English markets.
Xavier (Duris), a French economics student in search of a career, is told Spain will be the next hot territory to watch in his field. Using his father's connections he enrols in a special programme which will allow him to study for a year in Barcelona and learn the language. Tearfully packing his bags and kissing his girlfriend Martine (Tautou) goodbye, he takes the next plane south for what turns out to be a year of fun and games.
But to be accepted in a flat already shared by six other students he has to sit through an examination amusingly reminiscent of European nations discussing the addition of a new member to their community. More references to the continent's major issues occur every time arguments erupt about housekeeping, the various responsibilities of each lodger and the clash of personalities between them. Throw in a few parties, a romance here and there, a variety of sexual preferences, misunderstandings caused by temperament and language differences, all of them practically obligatory in this context, and the picture is complete.
By the time Xavier returns to Paris he is predictably wiser in the ways of the world, having learned much about female sensibilities from his lesbian roommate, and later practising his new-found knowledge in an affair with a neurologist's wife. He is also in full communion with his fellow lodgers, convinced that as important as separate identities may be, they are all alike, facing a common future.
Klapisch has the full support of his enthusiastic cast, with Romain Duris offering a sympathetic, reliable lead. Two of France's most promising young actresses, Judith Godreche and Audrey Tautou, are quite happy to assume relatively minor, but nicely limited parts, the first as the desperately insecure married woman in Xavier's life, the second as his frustrated Parisian girlfriend.
Gimmicks such as stop frames, speeded-up action or split screens give the film a modern feel fit for the internet generation. An commentary that verges on being excessively talkative at times runs throughout, ensuring that all the points are driven home.
Prod. Ce Qui Me Meut Motion Pictures, StudioCanal, Mate Productions
Fr dist: Bac Films
Int'l sales Wild Bunch
Prod: Bruno Levy
Cinematography: Dominique Colin
Ed: Francine Sandberg
Prod des: Francois Emmaneuelli
Cast: Romain Duris, Cecile Defrance, Judith Godreche, Audrey Tautou, Kelly Reilly, Xavier De Guillebon, Kevin Bishop, Federico D'Anna