L'auberge espagnole over the years

Some people have comfort food. I have comfort movies.

Last night was such a comfort night; a long, work-filled weekend called for indulgence with slik (Danish for candy) and the movie that made me fall in love with Europe: Cédric Klapisch's L'auberge espagnole (2002). I estimate this was probably around the 50th time I've seen this French film, and it never disappoints, because it evolves with me over the years.

the multilingual, multinational cast of L'auberge espagnole 

Let me give you a history of my decade-long relationship with this film, in the hope that if you have felt your identity expanding thanks to travel, you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Age 15: Mme Follett shows us the film in French class to teach us about cultural exchange and Erasmus. I fall instantly in love with the idea of living in Europe, sharing an apartment with young people and speaking a hodgepodge of European languages.

Age 16: I buy the DVD and work on saying the lines error free. My sister, best friend and I are proud of the fact that we recognize the subjunctive tense when Martine says "je suis triste que tu partes" and that we now know colloquial expressions like "elle a un mec" and "c'est un vrai bordel."

Age 18: I show the film to dozens of my college friends. I expect their unabashed enthusiasm for it, but it's met with lukewarm enjoyment instead. My friends seem not to have the crazy obsession with Europe which I do. Although I'd always known I would, I finally declare a major in French at the end of my sophomore year.

Age 20: I watch the film on the eve of my departure for Paris. I've turned the goal of living in Europe into a temporary reality by going on junior-year exchange. My heart patters and my stomach drops when the opening line of the film strikes a new meaning: "Tout a commencé là, quand l'avion a décollé." (That's when it all started, when the plane took off.")

Age 21: I come back from France after my year abroad dead-set on returning. Like Romain Duris's Xavier, I have trouble explaining my experiences, how I've changed, and what I learned, to my family and friends back home. My life in America now seems like the entr'acte to a fabulous play in Europe.

Age 22: After my senior year of college I barter my way back to France with a position as an English teaching assistant in Bretagne. As I traverse the streets of Brest looking for a place to live, I remember how Xavier says that when you first arrive in a city, everything is unknown and virgin territory for you. After having walked these streets 10, 20, 1000 times, you see yourself as you once were, newly arrived but now forever changed. I see an ad for a shared apartment which turns out to be the exact incarnation of l'auberge espagnole. Like Xavier, "j'aurais donné n'importe quoi pour qu'ils m'acceptent." Luckily, they accept me and I have the most incredible year of my life.

Age 23: Back in Boston after a year of teaching and an expired visa, I itch to get back to the camaraderie and international life I had in France. I therefore apply for graduate school in a bunch of European cities, hoping to combine the two things I love: film and Europe.

Age 25: On my birthday, after nine months in Copenhagen, things come perfectly full circle. While my sister and same best friend visit, we go to a street festival and spot Christian Pagh, the Danish actor in L'auberge espagnole. I tell him that the film is the reason I'm here, and everything feels right.

Yesterday: I'm about to hand in my master's thesis in film studies, and I can feel the whole world opening up in front of me. I'm no longer the idealistic teen I once was, but I also feel like "I'm French, Spanish, English, and Danish. I'm not one, but many. I'm like Europe. I'm all of that."

My personal B(r)est version of L'auberge espagnole

It's not a phase, it's a process.

Flesh and Blood