Thursday, 14 October 2010

Study Abroad in Film: "L'Auberge Espagnol"

This 2002 film does nothing to contradict the popular conception of study abroad as a party year. Xavier, a French student on an ERASMUS program in Barcelona, lives it up--he drinks a lot, cheats on his girlfriend with a married woman, and tries to cheat on her again by hitting on a friend (who actually turns out to be a lesbian). He scraps his plan to work in international business (and, presumably, ditches his economics major) and decides to become a writer (good luck with that...). On the bright side, he's had a life-changing experience, learned to speak Spanish with some fluency, and made some wonderfully eccentric new friends...

There's a lot of culture-contact going on in this film, but for me, the most interesting stuff comes from the two British characters. Wendy is very proper, studious and bookish--she yells at the others for being too loud when she's trying to study, complains about always having to pick up after them, etc. But when she gets drunk and lets loose, that prim exterior goes out the window and she hooks up with an American guitarist. Her brother William comes to visit, and he's an exaggeratedly awful yob. He speaks English exclusively and mocks her foreign housemates with stereotypes of each of their countries. He thinks his jokes are hilarious, while everyone else gets offended by them. To be fair, the housemates really do follow predictable stereotypes, so her awful brother isn't all wrong there--the Italian guy is laidback and sloppy, the German guy is efficient and orderly, etc. William says what everybody else might be thinking, but they're all too tactful to actually come out and say it.

All in all, it's a nice coming-of-age comedy, with some interesting insights into study abroad and the culture side of European integration.

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