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Klapisch’s Erasmus Children

8 Mar

Last week I attended a workshop on internalization of education at Manipal, organized by Manipal University and funded by the EU and a speaker there quipped, but also wanted to be taken seriously, when he said that one of the lasting contributions of the Erasmus programme to the integration of Europe has been that this programme, which is now thirty years old, has also given rise to one million Erasmus babies, i.e. those babies who were born out of couplings of Erasmus students as they were in the programme.

The moment I heard this serious joke I remembered that I know three of them, two born out of the coupling of Xavier and Wendy, and one between Xavier and Isabelle; but not when they were all sharing, with several interesting others, a flat in Barcelona, but a few years later after both of them had gone through their own individual heartbreaks.

I am speaking about the Spanish Apartment trilogy here, beginning with The Spanish Apartment [L’Auberge Espangole](2002), and followed by Russian Dolls [Les Poupées russes] (2005), and then the final instalment, The Chinese Puzzle [Casse-tête chinois] (2013), all written and directed by Cédric Klapisch.

In the first of the three we have Xavier in pursuit of the edge that would fit him in the world of suits and long corridored offices enrolling himself for an Erasmus programme and travelling to Barcelona.  As we reach the second one, the characters are inordinately long past their fun years.  They were chirpy and energetic once, running, cycling, exploring their way through the bright sunlit streets of Barcelona, even as they waged their small battles over the space in refrigerators, the flat, and in each other’s lives.  As we travel to Russia, the atmosphere is gloomy.  We go there for a wedding, but it’s dank everywhere.  The grey exteriors are matched by the motif of deliberation, hesitation, and of finding grandeur in systematic nature of the dragging everyday rather than the spontaneity, the randomness and the wildness that characterized their lives back in Barcelona.  Many of the characters are missing in this second edition and even those who are there put up a painful sense of having left one phase of life behind.  In other words, ageing.

The third edition, the Chinese Puzzle, seem to say that forties is the new youth.  Once again, Klapisch makes some bold sweep of colours and presents us with a New York yet unseen.  The Chinatown here is not the threatening place of alter-law of the noir days.  The conspiracies here are now are merely the workings of a benevolent coincidence.  The third installment brings back the raw energy of the first, its playfulness – including the playing around with representational modes – is as entertaining, and it recasts the hallucination of Xavier from its gloomy environs to pleasant ones even as they are still driven by the same sense of insecurity he lives through.

If The Spanish Apartment is characterized by crowded interiors and sparse exteriors, the outdoors are jam packed in the New York edition.  And when Xavier gets too lonely indoors, he always has the company of German philosophers.  Had the sequel to The Spanish Apartment come to an end with in the bleak and deserted suburb in Russia, one would have never gotten over the hiraet of returning from a foreign exchange programme where you could feel the world once again in all its sense of wonder, and then look back at it after a few months with the certainty that you will never live those days again, except as some kind of sublimation.  Thanks to the last one, Chinese Puzzle, at least one can age with some sense of life intact.  You know, Hegel is right, and he has explained so simply  – all nothingness is the nothing of something.


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