By PHILIP BOOTH and STEVE PERSALL
Published June 12, 2003
Fluffy dessert with didactic aftertaste
L'Auberge Espagnole (R) (119 min.) - Cross a version of The Real World set in Barcelona with an earnest coming-of-age story, and the result is a mildly entertaining, if forgettable, young-adult comic melodrama - complete with drugs, pot and an impromptu drunken sing-along of Bob Marley's No Woman, No Cry - doing double duty as an art-house flick.
Euro Pudding, the original English-language title given for L'Auberge Espagnole (loosely translated as the Spanish inn), was probably a more suitable title for the latest from French writer-director Cedric Klapisch (When the Cat's Away). It's light, fluffy and stuffed with a mix of types and stereotypes, most from the European continent.
The story centers on the arrival of vaguely likable, soft-spoken French guy Xavier (Romain Duris) in Barcelona for a year abroad studying economics under the auspices of the European Union's exchange program. As viewed by Klapisch, the Spanish city is a cosmopolitan and invigorating hub of activity, edged by gorgeous sea views and packed with cafes, bars and all manner of street life: in short, a great place to be young, unattached and full of hope about one's future.
Xavier, after other plans fall through, rents a room in a well-worn apartment packed with students from Italy, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Spain and England, and alive with multiple native tongues. He eventually pulls away from his manipulative girlfriend back home (Audrey Tatou of Amelie), romances a married woman (Judith Godreche) and forms a tight friendship with a lesbian roommate (Cecile de France).
This rather bland pudding, although sprinkled with split screens and other attention-getting camera tricks, is undercoated with a political message, of sorts, directed from one E.U. country to the others: Can't we all just get along? C+
- PHILIP BOOTH, Times correspondent
Out of Germany, into Africa
Nowhere in Africa (Not rated, probably R due to mature themes, nudity, sexuality) (141 min.) - Some German Jews escaped their country before the Nazis turned deadly, to points around the world including the Kenyan setting of Caroline Rink's absorbing film. Why those people left Germany is obvious. Nowhere in Africa, however, examines the abdication of a homeland, the grudging acceptance of another, and the conflicting emotions of the immigrants.
Rink's film was a deserving winner of this year's Academy Award for best foreign language film - German and Swahili dominate the dialogue, while some English adds to the multicultural mix. Viewers are kept as far away from Holocaust horrors as the fictional Redlich family, middle-class immigrants in Africa, but the pain takes other, subtler forms: being uprooted and dumped into a foreign culture, and worrying about loved ones left behind. The film is based on Stefanie Zweig's semi-autobiographical novel.
Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze) guessed what was coming in Germany, moving to Kenya and beckoning his wife Jettel (Juliane Kohler) and young daughter Regina (Lea Kurka and, later, Karoline Eckertz) to join him. They do, discovering a harsh desert life. Jettel detests the place at first, then slowly adopts the local language and customs while Walter begins to doubt whether he did the right thing.
The hub of the story, however, is Regina, whose innocence and adaptability to Kenya make her the medium between her parents' shifting feelings. Of particular importance is Regina's relationship with Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), a native hired as farmhand, cook and moral core of the story. Nowhere in Africa poses several complex issues of loyalty, both political and personal, yet it's Regina and Owuor steering our sensibilities in the proper direction.
Nowhere in Africa is a lovely film, from snowy reveries of German life to the dust-brown quaintness of Kenya to a plush British detention camp where the Redlichs are taken. The family is viewed as possible enemies because they're German, as if their Jewish faith wouldn't prevent them from supporting the Nazis. The family may also fall apart if love of country overrides love of each other.
Rink's film could use tighter editing. Her quest for some resolution to all these personal crises in the midst of history leads Nowhere in Africa into some dull stretches in the final hour, but this compelling, fairly undocumented facet of the Holocaust makes for a fine film, indeed.