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Friday, 04 July 2003

Reviewed: L'Auberge Espagnole

It was either going out and seeing l'Auberge espagnole or Bruce Almighty at a drive-in or staying in with a box of tissues and sniveling thanks to my hayfever. As it turned out, I ended up sitting in a darkened cinema with a box of tissues, periodically exploding, sniveling, but mostly laughing and enjoying an amusing film.

This really isn't the kind of film you should see if you've been in America for a fortnight and most people around you haven't been to Europe much. Or, for that matter, if you're just missing that, um, European thing, what with wallowing shots of life in Barcelona, a heavy dosage of Gaudi and the accents of a pan-European cast.

Your standard character growth story, l'auberge tells the story of Xavier, an aimless student who's been encouraged by a friend of the family to take part in the Erasmus EU student exchange programme to study economics in Barcelona for a year before taking up a (by implication) dull, bureaucratic yet ultimately comfortable EU civil service job. As usual, there's a full complement of Girlfriend Left At Home, the Mistaken Lesbian and Mrs. Robinson characters with whom Xavier has his predictable fun.

Overall, the writing's sharp. The film gains a shot in the arm when the English flatmate, Wendy, receives a visit from her brother William, who's out on a pre-university bender: William gets predictably drunk, manages to piss off everyone in the house by being wonderfully naive, young and excruciatingly insulting and picks up what would otherwise be a flagging last third.

The theme running throughout is that of the mishmash of cultures that the EU is trying to smush together: what happens when you get some highly individualistic nation states with well known stereotypes and--wait for it, here's the metaphor bit--make them spend a year together in an apartment. It sounds part Big Brother, part MTV's The Real World, and Xavier's introduction to this polyglot mix is easily reminiscent of the interview scene in Shallow Grave.

In short: starts slowly, and yes, Audrey Tautou appears (though if you're looking for an Amelie, you'll be disappointed--the tone here is decidedly different), a sharp soundtrack (Radiohead and Daft Punk spring to mind) and good cinematography (plus there's lots of Gaudi). Picks up in the latter two thirds, though the ending is a little week. For English language speakers who're put off by foreign language films, don't worry: you'll only need the subtitles for around a third of the dialogue, the rest is in English.

L'auberge espagnole was released on 9 May in the UK and 16 May in the US.

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