Here’s an anomaly: A movie that manages to be light and breezy — generally words of warning in any review — without leaving the viewer with the sour aftertaste of too many empty calories. Written and directed by French filmmaker Cedric Klapisch, L’Auberge Espagnole (the literal translation of the title is “the Spanish inn,” though the slang use of it in the movie renders it as “Euro-pudding”) is the story of a young student named Xavier, who decides to leave France and spend a year in Barcelona furthering his economic studies before embarking on a career in European finance. That’s the plan, though it’s clear from the beginning that Xavier (Romain Duris) isn’t committed to the idea of working in a bureaucracy or to much else, except perhaps his girlfriend, Martine (Audrey Tautou of Amélie fame), whom he’s reluctantly leaving behind.
Once in Barcelona, Xavier finds lodgings with a group of fellow students who rather schematically represent a cross-section of nationalities — there’s a German, a Spaniard, a Brit, a Dane, etc. — and their friendships and squabbles and none-too-serious culture clashes are the basis for the film’s anecdotal structure. The humor tends to be gentle, the main exception occurring after the arrival of the English girl Wendy’s brother, Thomas, an amiable lout whose idea of a reaching out is to talk to the apartment’s resident German in a loud Ah-nuld accent and make jokes about Hitler. Meanwhile, Xavier is learning some valuable life lessons, mainly that it’s not a good idea to have an affair with a married woman, nor is it wise to neglect your girlfriend for too long.
Like Klapisch’s earlier film, When The Cat’s Away (1997), this one has a witty visual style and an ambling narrative. And that, combined with the fact that the implied deeper theme here — the fractious nature of the new European multiculturalism — is suggested but unexplored, may leave some feeling that it’s all much ado about nothing. But it has a certain filmic fizz that’s a reminder that there are intrinsic cinematic pleasures that have little to do with plot or other literary concerns.
Klapisch has mastered just the right tone for his busy coming-of-age tale — it’s neither too silly nor too serious and always a pleasure to watch.
Showing exclusively at the Birmingham 8 (211 S. Woodward Ave., Birmingham). Call 248-644-3456.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].