American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Xavier, a French student worried about his career choices, is advised by a family friend that learning Spanish will be his ticket to success. He signs up for the Erasmus program of the European Community, which arranges student exchanges as a way for the young people of the New Europe to get to know one another by living and studying together for a year.
"L'Auberge Espagnole" is the story of Xavier's adventures during a year in Barcelona with, if I have this straight, fellow students from Spain, England, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Denmark. An American wanders through, but makes no impression. Although all of their languages make cameo appearances, English is the common language of choice.
That makes the title all the more puzzling. I saw this movie for the first time at the 2002 Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic, where it won the audience award under the title "Euro-pudding." It opened in England as "Pot Luck," in Spain as "Una Casa de Locos," was announced for North America as "The Spanish Hotel," and now arrives with the Spanish version of that title. This is not a good omen for the movie's message about the harmony of national cultures.
The movie has Xavier (Romain Duris) say goodbye for a year to his French girlfriend (Audrey Tautou, of "Amelie") and fly to Spain on an odyssey which he narrates, not very helpfully (much dialogue along the lines of, "My story starts here ... no, not here, but ... "). In Barcelona he shares an apartment with six other students, plus a revolving roster of lovers, most straight, one gay. Imagine the American students in "The Real Cancun" as if they were literate, cosmopolitan and not substance abusers, and you've got it.