L'Auberge Espagnole

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Director: Cedric Klapisch
Running time: 122 minutes
Language: English with some French, Spanish, etc.; subtitles in Japanese and English
Currently showing
[See Japan Times movie listings]

After two years at a rural New England college with brutally long winters that left me on the verge of bursting into someone's dorm room with an ax shouting "Heeere's Johnny!" I resolved to spend my third year abroad somewhere, anywhere. That it ended up being Kyoto was a whim, albeit a choice I wouldn't have made if I knew I'd be sleeping in an unheated room, separated from a snow-covered garden by no more than thin paper shoji.

Looking back on it now, though, through the soft-focus lens of nostalgia, it doesn't seem that bad, which holds true for all my memories of that old ryokan-turned-"gaijin house." It was a multinational mess of eccentrics -- a Ocho cultie fresh from the ashram, a Chinese doctor whose Buddhist beliefs wouldn't let us poison the rats that plagued our kitchen, a nymphomaniac Osaka housewife who went through every guy in the house -- but I wouldn't have traded it for the world. More than any college course, it offered valuable lessons in mutual tolerance and flexibility.

All of which left me sympathetic to director Cedric Klapisch's latest, "L'Auberge Espagnole," a light comedy centered on a French exchange student who spends a year in a similarly anarchic dwelling, filled with a veritable European Union of broad-minded youths. It's a decent paean to the joys and agonies of culture-clash communal living, but it's also hardly unique. One of the first things I learned on returning to the States after my year in Kyoto was that everybody's year overseas was life-changing, and that everybody had a story or anecdote to top all the others, ad infinitum. But Klapisch's tales aren't exactly show-stoppers.