A lightweight, pleasant French comedy from director CÚdric Klapisch ("When the Cat's Away"), "L'Auberge Espagnole" (hereafter called "The Spanish Apartment") stars Romain Duris as Xavier, a twenty-something French student who decides that it would be best to leave his girlfriend (Audrey Tautou, the star of "Amelie", who is only in a small - and very different - role here, despite being featured on the cover) and head off to Barcelona to join the Erasmus program, which will allow him to live in an apartment with several different people from several different countries.
Dismayed with his original accomidations, he briefly moves in with a doctor and his stunning wife (Judith Godreche) before finding a place with several folks his age who find themselves in a comfortable, controlled chaos. He loves it. There's not a particularly straightforward plot (the director's prior film focused on a woman's search for her cat, yet made that into a pretty interesting tale), but the movie manages to skip between the stories of the roommates in an organized manner. For the most part, the movie remains interesting, not hammering its message of how everyone - despite differences in where they're from or otherwise - share a lot of common bonds, and that borders should be taken down. It also captures that moment of time between youth and adult responsibility quite well.
The film is fairly similar to MTV's "Real World", but manages to be more intelligent than that series. The film also captures the thrill of travel well; that feeling of being on new streets, that new adventures and stories are around the corner. Given that the majority of the film takes place in Barcelona, it's also no surprise that the scenery is nothing short of spectacular, as the film's cinematography admires the architecture as the story passes through.
The film starts off interestingly enough, zipping (literally fast-forwarding) through its exposition in order to try and get the plot started. Unfortunately, that tendency to try and tighten the film isn't carried; the picture's biggest issue is that there's not enough of it to carry 122 minutes - a good 15 minutes could have been lost without much issue.
The acting from all the leads and supporting characters is quite good; no one stands out, which works for this sort of an ensemble feature. I liked this little movie - it's nothing terribly new, but it's warm-hearted, intelligent and well-acted, with great scenery and dialogue.
VIDEO: "The Spanish Apartment" is presented by Fox in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame. Each presentation has its own single-layered side of the same disc. The film was shot in high definition video, but, to its credit, it's one of those digital video films that looks fairly close to film, yet a little different enough that you notice it's not. Sharpness and detail are good throughout the film, if a little inconsistent; the picture can appear a tad soft during the interior scenes, especially during a few dimly-lit moments.
Some concerns are evident during a few scenes. A minor amount of edge enhancement is occasionally visible in some of the brighter, outdoor sequences. The print looks great for the most part, but there's still a few specks that occasionally are spotted. No compression artifacts are seen. Colors are warm and generally well-rendered, but some of the reds occasionally look a bit smeary.
SOUND: The movie has a terrific Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. The film is presented in different languages, as the characters come from different places and occasionally switch to other languages. The non-English portions, however, are all subtitled. There isn't a great deal of activity throughout this film's soundtrack, but I did appreciate the touches that were added. Scenes on the street have a pretty remarkable amount of ambience, with background noises, cars and people talking clearly heard from both surrounds. One particular scene with characters looking out over the city has distinct environmental sounds heard from positions all around the room. A lot of scenes are dialogue-driven, but surrounds are put into play when needed. Dialogue remained clear and easily understood throughout.
EXTRAS: The DVD contained no supplements - not even a trailer.
Final Thoughts: A likable, sweet film that's entertaining and involving, "The Spanish Apartment" is a great import. Fox's DVD offers very good audio/video quality, but I was disappointed to find that no supplements are included. Still, worth a look. Release date: 12/23/03.