‘L’Auberge Espagnole’: the Erasmus generation seen by a French filmmaker

The European elections of May 2014 are raising concerns about both a possible low voter turnout record and the growth of anti-European parties. For many, a lack of understanding of the European Union’s impact on European citizens and a poor communication about the parties’ programmes and the candidates are the main reasons for the rise in abstention rates.

Equally important is the lack of a common European identity. Even though the European Union has long tried to foster a greater sense of belonging amongst European citizens, Europe’s internal borders still prevail in people’s minds and perceptions.

One EU initiative, however, has proved to be a powerful force in creating a pan-European identity: the Erasmus programme, which allows students to spend a semester or a year in another European university.

And one European citizen has done a very good job in promoting this programme throughout the whole of Europe: the French film director  Cédric Klapisch.

Who has never heard of his movie L’Auberge Espagnole (‘Pot Luck’)? Released in 2002, it tells the story of Xavier (Romain Duris), a 25 year old student who, thanks to the Erasmus programme, moves to Barcelona, where he shares a flat with a group of seven other students from all over Western Europe. An enriching experience that will change his life forever.

The film met an unexpected success, with almost five million entries in Europe, and in the year following the release, applications to the programme more than doubled.

“Since this movie, I am regularly asked to give my opinion on Erasmus, as if I was one of its promoters or ambassadors.”, he recently wrote in an article published in the Huffington Post.

The producer did not stop there. In 2005, he released Russian Dolls and, in 2013, Chinese Puzzle; both part of what is now known as the “Klapisch trilogy”, and which follows the progression of the same characters as they age.

Cédric Klapisch’s vision of Europe also evolved throughout the years. In the first movie, the picture he gives of Europe is one of openness and hope.

Each character lives up to the stereotypes of his or her country (British Wendy likes tea, French Xavier is a moaner, Italian Alessandro is sloppy while, on the contrary, German Tobias is organised and efficient…).

At first, this diversity, and the language barrier it implies, makes it difficult to create a real union.

But it is still possible to find similarities among the various personalities. For example, Xavier discovers that he has similar musical tastes as Isabelle, his Belgian flatmate.

As the story unfolds, everyone finds his or her own place and function, as well as a way to manage this diversity. For instance, to be able to put each other though when relatives are calling, they translated sentences like ‘he is not here right now’ into the seven languages.

The message is thus clear: similarly to such a fragmented apartment and in line with the motto ‘unity in diversity’, Europe can overcome its cultural differences and foster a sense of belonging to a European society.

In the last movie of the trilogy, however, which takes place in the United States, the “old continent” does not inspire hope anymore:  hit by an economic crisis, it has to face a growing antagonism between rich and poor countries, as well as the rise of nationalist sentiments.

‘People go off to America and Canada, countries which have probably suffered the crisis worse than we have. But they deal with it better there, it’s incredible. There’s this concept of enthusiasm, whereas, in Europe, we drag our depression along with us.  We’re depressed.’ he said in an interview given to the online platform cafébabel.

But Cédric Klapisch remains optimistic: ‘I get the feeling that Europe is resisting, you can see a certain solidarity through the crisis”, he admitted in the same interview.

The Erasmus programme has had a huge impact on the life of many Europeans, and has contributed to form a sense of belonging to the European project.

One can only rejoice at the European Commission’s recent decision to invest even more in this kind of initiatives, creating a new programme which name says it all: Erasmus+.  (See our article ‘Getting Europe Back on Track: Erasmus Becomes +!’)


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