[box cover]

L'Auberge Espagnole

Contrary to what Fox's box art would have you believe, Amelie's Audrey Tautou is not the star of L'Auberge Espagnole (2002), a quietly charming French comedy about (what else?) life and love. For that matter, she's not even one of the principle supporting cast members — and she's not particularly charming or gamine this time around, either. What she is is the shrill, demanding girlfriend who petulantly bids her Parisian amour Xavier (Romain Duris) goodbye when he signs up with the Erasmus exchange program and goes to Spain for a year of grad school. Thoughtful and responsible, Xavier has convinced himself that he'd rather take the safe route and study economics than pursue his childhood dreams of becoming a writer — but 12 months in the vibrant, colorful city of Barcelona do their best to change his mind. No small part of the experience is the movie's titular apartment, where Xavier lives with a veritable melting pot of fellow students, including uptight Brit Wendy (Kelly Reilly), feisty Spaniard Soledad (Cristina Brondo), affable Aussie Lars (Christian Pagh) and edgy Belgian Isabelle (Cécile De France). Crammed in with the others, Xavier loosens up for the first time in his life, pondering questions of nationality and identity and learning a lot about himself. (A complicated friendship with neglected young wife Anne-Sophie, played by Judith Godrèche, throws him for a few more emotional loops.) It's not the most original cinematic ground to tread, but director Cédric Klapisch leads his talented young cast well; anyone who's ever had roommates will appreciate the authenticity of their performances and the natural feel of their interactions. Some of Klapisch's shots are a little too stylized (the choppy, sped-up walking bits in the beginning, for instance), but he and cinematographer Dominque Colin collaborate beautifully on scenes like dreamy late-night sequence in which the roommates stagger home after a night of drinking and dancing. The whole thing comes together to make for a pleasant, entertaining bit of cinema: If it's been long enough since you had roommates that you remember them fondly (instead of with shudders of distaste), L'Auberge Espagnole will make you nostalgic for the good old days… of shared bathrooms, overheard phone calls, messy refrigerators, and chaotic youth. The movie looks and sounds good on Fox's double-sided DVD — both full-frame and anamorphic (1.85:1) transfers are available, as are French DD 5.1 Surround and Spanish 2.0 Surround audio tracks (with optional English and Spanish subtitles). No extras, keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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