Life is complicated. It can be on its own, and it can be because we muddle it up with complications. Over the years I have really enjoyed the glimpse into the lives of a group of friends as they grow older that began in The Spanish Apartment (2002) and was followed by the Russian Dolls (2005). Each film shows us a glimpse on the development of our characters as they first engage with romance, academics and co-habitation outside of home. Followed by angst of growing up and building a career, with some more angst. This final volume highlighting complications that arise with families, and dealing with some of the mistakes and misfortunes that have occurred along the way.
Xavier (Romain Duris) is now pushing forty and has had two children with Wendy (Kelly Reilly). They have been living in Paris for the last ten years and the relationship has hit a dead end. Xavier is a published author, having published two novels on the experiences and adventures of the two previous films, and he is working on a final novel. Isabelle (Cécile de France) is now dating someone seriously and they want to have a baby. She does not want the sperm of a stranger and goes to Xavier for help. He agrees to assist with them starting a family, and concurrently things at home with Wendy are on the rocks and she soon announces she is moving to New York City with the kids and has found love and a new life there while away on a trip. She does not take the news of Xavier’s donation very well, and soon begins the unraveling of the life that Xavier has built in Paris.
Upon arriving in New York City, the struggles of finding a place to live, being a father, fighting for his parental rights, overwhelm Xavier. He takes refuge in Chinatown thanks to the aid of Isabelle’s girlfriend who still owns a small apartment from her college years. Eventually at the advice of a bottom feeder Lawyer, Xavier begins the search for a wife to help him gain access to legalization to get formal work to help him navigate through the red tape during his divorce with Wendy. Through some transportation misadventures in New York City, and his own benevolent actions he is granted access to a woman to possibly help with this process. Xavier’s long time ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou) visits New York on business and engages Xavier for some help in a very funny scene involving Martine at a business meeting with an all Chinese boardroom.
I first saw L’Auberge Espagnol when I formalized my collegiate studies with the French language. I remember instantly bonding with Xavier as he seemed to be a kindred spirit on the quest for a goal and life, embattled with struggles of divorced parents, and not quite knowing the path. As he would study abroad in Barcelona, I would be studying in Aix-En-Provence during the French release of the second film Les Poupées Russes. I remember attending a screening one warm summer day and enjoying the story that writer/director Cédric Klapisch has now created for three features. During a chance visit to New York City during college I would be able to see Russian Dolls a second time while it was on its festival circuit of the United States and be able to meet Klapisch for the first time. It was a nice meeting, possibly one of my first encounters with French filmmakers I had grown fond of over the years of immersing myself with their work while trying to master the literal language they used to tell their stories. At the time I dreamed about a filmmaking career, especially possibly with working with French cinema somehow.
Years would pass and I would eventually land a job driving as a chauffeur for a French Film Festival in the United States. I would once again run into Klapisch while he would be showing his newest film Paris, also starring Duris. I had always hoped that my time with the festival would lead to something connecting my two passions of French and Cinema - yet those opportunities would never surface. It had kind of been a fun hope to appear in this third film since the previous two had effected me so much during my college years of studying French and Film. Despite my lack of taking the initiative to make that dream happen, I must say that this final film leaves me with a nice feeling of hope for Xavier, Wendy, Isabelle, Martine, and anyone else who has struggled through the complications of life. We will always have drama, since it is embedded into the DNA of existence, but what is notable about these stories is that that the common bond of friendship is what will help navigate them and ensure good company when we reach different milestones along the way. No matter the pains and joys of the journey, what good are they if you just have a bunch of strangers around you at the end?
As I’ve grown up watching French films and especially enjoyed seeing Tautou mature on screen, it is nice that as her international fame has not kept her from having the time to revisit Martine and her relationship with Xavier. Perhaps my dreams will just have to evolve, and perhaps having her apart of my own project someday will make all this homework payoff. I can now after all go and see a movie in Paris long before I would have the opportunity back home, and walk away with an enriched cinematic experience without the subtitles. The L’auberge Trilogy shows the immense value of opening ones life to international experiences and friends, and how through those friendships we can truly find ourselves and “come of age” as this genre always so nicely tries to show. It has been nearly eleven years since the first film, and although this chapter isn’t the end of a Harry Potter series; it is a nice way to end things. It is a bit more relevant to those living their lives, forging away at our own destinies, embodied by complications that may or may not show up through a Spanish apartment, Russian dolls, or a Chinese puzzle.