Last Night I Watched: L’auberge espagnole

When I was asked to watch L’auberge espagnole for my weekly French oral class, I was a little sceptical. I’d never heard of this film before. The cover certainly looks a little outdated given that it came out in 2002, but it has its fair share of positive reviews online. Prepare for a few spoilers below.

The film follows the story of Xavier, a Parisian economics graduate who is after a big job at the French ministry but is informed that he needs to speak a good level of Spanish. Xavier heads to Barcelona as part of the Erasmus programme and ends up in an apartment with students from all over Europe. Although the movie is French and features Xavier’s French commentary, the characters frequently switch between French, Spanish, and English, depending on who we have in the scene. You can also find this movie dubbed in English and Spanish, but as with any foreign film I would always recommend watching it in the original language with English subtitles wherever possible to keep its authenticity.

The main attraction of this film for me came from the fact that it is about a year abroad experience, and as a student who has recently finished their own year abroad in France

Although I did enjoy the language switching element, it does also feel like one big advert for the EU and Erasmus, especially when you reach the ending. Xavier’s year in Barcelona has made him realise that he is made up of a little bit of everyone he met that year. He was no longer just a Parisian, but a little bit Spanish, a little bit Italian and a little bit English too. Personally I don’t find anything wrong with this as I would recommend a year abroad or Erasmus exchange to anyone, but you may find a few reviews online that did not enjoy this European “propaganda”. Certain elements of this movie are also questionable. At one point, the group of flatmates frantically drop everything to save the English student as her long-distance boyfriend arrives for a surprise visit while she is in bed with the American that she’d met the week before. The plot itself is rather cliché, and the video and electronic sound effects have a very 2000s-feel to them, which I actually quite enjoyed.

The main attraction of this film for me came from the fact that it is about a year abroad experience, and as a student who has recently finished their own year abroad in France, the movie definitely resonates with me. Xavier’s Erasmus journey reminded me of my own, from the complicated form-filling process that involved moving to France, to the first steps in a foreign city that didn’t really feel like home.

My favourite part of this movie was the mix of students that lived together in the Spanish apartment. I spent this year living with two assistants from Germany, a teacher from France, and a Spanish language assistant from Panama. At the weekly language café in the city of Metz I would socialise with people from England, Scotland, France, Germany, Italy and the USA, all coming from very different backgrounds yet all sharing a love for speaking French. At the weekends I would go out like Xavier, and find myself stumbling around another new French city in the same way that he partied around Barcelona. His bittersweet goodbye was all too familiar as he had to leave his new-found best friends and return to his own country which he had also been missing. At least Xavier did not have to book a flight within two days and pack up before the borders closed due to COVID-19.

If you can look past some strange plot points and outdated bits, you can really get a feel for what an Erasmus year looks like.

The thing that really pulls all this together for me is the title of the film. L’auberge espagnole may literally translate to The Spanish Apartment, but it is also a French idiomatic phrase that means “you get from it what you put into it.” This phrase is really the best way to go about your year abroad, especially as I lived in a very small town and was initially worried this would hinder my experience. The more effort I put in, and the more I did to make friends and improve my French, the more I got out of the situation.

L’auberge espagnole is certainly not the best French movie ever made, but one that has allowed me to reminisce on my own experiences. I would recommend it to anyone who has done or is going to do a year abroad; if you can look past some strange plot points and outdated bits, you can really get a feel for what an Erasmus year looks like.

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