A new housemate, Isabel, a lesbian, teaches Xavier about the moves and touches that most appeal to women and he tries them out on Anne-Sophie, the neurologist’s wife who eagerly submits to his advances. The film, however, has a larger theme: learning to discover our true self, not the one parents or teachers expect us to be. The experience allows Xavier to get in touch with his own creative energies and reminds him of his childhood longing to become a writer. While L’Auberge Espanole never explores any character in much depth and the camera tricks can become tiresome, it has intelligence, fun, and exuberance and, with Barcelona scintillating in the background, rekindles the time when life was an adventure of discovery.
The pressure to land a good paying job and have “security” is so prevalent among young people that many never discover what they really want to do in life. Cédric Klapisch’s film L’Auberge Espanole is about one young man who had the good fortune to discover new possibilities about himself. Promised a steady job in the French ministry if he would learn Spanish and study the Spanish economy, Xavier (Romain Duris), a 25-year old French economics student applies for the European exchange program known as Erasmus. After fighting through a maze of bureaucracy, he travels to Barcelona, Spain for one year of study, leaving behind his devoted girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou) and his bohemian mother (Martine Demaret).
In Barcelona, Xavier stays with a French neurosurgeon and his wife Anne-Sophie (Judith Godreche) but soon finds an apartment with a contingent of young people from various parts of Europe: Wendy from Britain (Kelly Reilly); Tobias from Germany (Barnaby Metschurat); Lars from Denmark (Christian Pagh); Soledad from Spain (Cristina Brondo); Alessandro from Italy (Federico D’Anna); and Isabelle from Belgium (Cecile De France). Similar in theme to Bertolucci’s The Dreamers but much lighter in tone, L’Auberge Espanole explores the growth of a once bland student when exposed to people of different cultures who are unrestrained in their zest for life.
There are the usual fights over doing the dishes, space in the refrigerator, and politics in the new Europe. One of the funniest parts of the film is the arrival of the Wendy’s brother from the UK (Kevin Bishop). He turns everyone off with ethnic slurs but redeems himself after he covers up his sisters affair with a boorish American so that her just arrived boyfriend doesn’t find out. Much of the action centers on relations with the opposite, or in one case, with the same sex. Martine visits him but their relationship becomes strained when she is uncomfortable having sex in a crowded apartment and does not relate well to the other students.