The art of cinema has become a global phenomenon in the past century. Americans make films, New Zealanders make films, Cubans make films-you get the point. What gives cinema its flare from nation to nation is the cultural background implemented in it. To be fair, I haven’t seen a ton of foreign films. But from what I have seen, I can tell you that I’ve been immersed in these completely different worlds. Two films that stand out to me are ones that I saw over the past year. There’s the fantastic French film L’Auberge Espagnole (translates to The Spanish Apartment) and the often funny Chilean film Que pena tu vida(roughly translates to F*** my life).
I enjoyed both films. L’Auberge Espagnole was a terrific foray into what it’s like studying in a foreign country, and learning from other countries. Que pena tu vida was a funny film, with a strong sense of cultural pride and awareness, as well as teaching the audience to enjoy what they have while they have it. But something stuck out to me as I watched Que pena tu vida. The protagonist, Javier, was strikingly similar to L’Auberge Espagnole’s protagonist, Xavier! After that realization occurred to me, the journey they take throughout the course of their respective films began to blend. Javier looks for love, but is often too brash and pig headed to make any real connection. Xavier is also brash, and looks for love where he shouldn’t (a married woman). The two protagonists even look a bit alike in their basic structure. Two dark skinned young men, in their twenties, with a deer in the headlights sort of youthful look to them. (This look has definitely made a mark on Indie films. Check out Richard Ayoade’s Welsh film Submarine for reference on the whole deer in the headlights thing).
Here is Que pena tu vida’s Javier:
And here is L’Auberge Espagnole’s Xavier:
Now to actually get down to the grit of their similarities.
Both of them have a very strong sense of cultural awareness. Javier begins Que Pena Tu Vida talking about how people should appreciate Santiago Chile, where the story takes place, and goes on to say that it is the most beautiful city in the world-even with its flaws. Xavier studies abroad in Barcelona, and even has a job for the French government. This is something that I actually wish was more prevalent in American films. It’s almost like we have absolutely no cultural awareness. I’m not saying every film should be ‘Murica this ‘Murica that, but it’d be nice to see some USA sentiment here and there. Mind you, not the pigheaded offensive sentiment that we seem to express far more than I’d like to see. When we do see cultural sentiment, it lies more within specific cities, like in Que pena tu vida. Examples of this can be seen in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, or more recently, Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild.
The characters also behave similarly in terms of acting and reacting to romantic situations. If either is spurned, that girl is automatically a terrible person. When they do feel something for someone, their passion goes through the roof. Javier spends most of his film complaining about his ex-girlfriend, and Xavier spends most of his willing to risk breaking up a marriage. The youthful audacity to their characters is very well portrayed. This makes me wonder: Do Chileans and the French have similar ideas on their youth? The females in both had a strong sense of reason, while the males often acted according to impulse.
There were differences that stuck out to me in terms of the filmmaking/writing. Que pena tu vida wanted to tell a funny story, and make you think a bit. L’Auberge Espagnole also wanted to tell a funny story, but seemed to desire to leave more of an impact. We definitely get a better glimpse into the psychology of the protagonist in L’Auberge Espagnole. While it’s not fair to completely judge a cultural style of filmmaking on the merit of a single film, I can’t help but notice that I’ve seen a few Spanish film posters with plots that seem like they would please the demographic of Que pena tu vida. And there’s nothing wrong with that. When you know your market, you work with it. Overall, L’Auberge Espagnole was definitely the more mature film. But Que pena tu vida was fun to watch-you don’t always need a mature story. You can kind of tell what kind of stories you’ll get when you compare the film posters.
Both films are on Netflix if you want to check them out. Que pena tu vida will definitely please you if you’re into romantic comedies like 500 Days of Summer, and L’Auberge Espagnole is great for any aspiring filmmaker in terms of cultural blending. It definitely left an impact on me, and what I want to see/do in film in terms of cultural blending. Both films have sequels, with Que pena tu vida being followed by Que pena tu boda, and Que pena tu familia released just this year. L’Auberge Espagnole is followed by Les Poupees russes, and Casse-tete chinois, which is scheduled to be released this year. If you’re interested in any other works by these directors, Que pena tu vida was helmed by Nicolás López, and L’Auberge Espagnole by Cédric Klapisch. One last thing to note-Que pena tu vida’s two sequels are about Javier getting married, followed by Javier having a family. L’Auberge Espagnole’s two sequels are about Xavier finding love, followed by Xavier…having a family.
— Nicholas Graves