When I saw Cédric Klapisch’s Casse-tête Chinois at the London Film Festival I was firstly, surprised that I had absent-mindedly got myself into the third part of a trilogy, and secondly, shocked that I hadn’t found these films before.
L’auberge Espagnole presents us with the highly modern and essentially western problems faced by European 20-somethings. It begins somewhat awkwardly, using a mix of voiceover and double-speed footage as a kind of prologue. Fortunately, this doesn’t last long and the films picks up once it leaves dull Paris-based exposition and moves to Barcelona.
Klapisch seems intent on throwing as many stereotypes our way as he can manage and puts these cultural pawns into play in a multi-national flat share. While some nations get away with having real, well thought out characters representing them, others are reduced to a few convenient stereotypes. The German student has his room organised to within an inch of its life and sticks to a rigid study program. The English girl is stand-offish and bossy. She is pathetically awful at every language she comes into contact with and her brother is a binge-drinking lad of the first order. Some of these stereotypes are admittedly true and the only reason Klapisch gets away with it is by making every interaction so blissfully funny that it doesn’t matter that the characters are a little two-dimensional. If this film is a metaphor for the European political situation, it’s simply laughable that such a varied group of people could ever agree in government.
The film is quite loose and unstructured. There are subplots that could easily have been cut and characters that are just annoying instead of amusing. Audrey Tautou is fantastically irritating as Xavier’s neurotic long-distance girlfriend but the side-plot of Xavier’s affair with a married woman (Judith Godrèche) doesn’t really go anywhere, isn’t funny and does nothing but make Xavier’s character seem superior and unpleasant.
It’s a sweet and funny film which ends far better than it began. Some of the scenes of student life are tear-jerkingly accurate and absurd. Yet, had I not seen Casse-tête Chinois first, I am not sure I would have continued to watch Les poupées Russes after L’Auberge Espagnole.
- Entertainment: 4/5
- Artistic: 3/5
- Intellectual: 3/5