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Multilingualism in Film

Edited By Ralf Junkerjürgen and Gala Rebane

Multilingualism is a phenomenon that has become increasingly visible in popular cinema and thus is currently a very novel object of academic inquiry. The present volume is a cutting-edge collection of cross- and transdisciplinary takes on this phenomenon and its different aspects. Its topics range from translation theory to political and aesthetic quandaries of audiovisual translation and subtitling, to narratological function of multilingualism in fiction, to language ideologies and language poetics onscreen. Its authorship is a worldwide body of perspectives, whose contributions span a distinctive collection of international, national and regional film traditions.

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Multilingual Europe. Discourses of Identity in the Erasmus Movies L’Auberge espagnole and Júlia ist

Ralf Junkerjürgen

Multilingual Europe. Discourses of Identity in the Erasmus Movies L’Auberge espagnole and Júlia ist

Abstract: As the most successful European student exchange program, Erasmus has become the framework for international experiences for millions of European students. Movies like L’Auberge espagnole and Júlia ist reflect on the situation that their protagonists find themselves in while abroad. But while in 2002 L’Auberge espagnole presented multilingualism as an exciting challenge for an international community, fifteen years later it seems to have already become an everyday norm for the protagonists of Júlia ist, at least for the academic middle class from which the characters come.

Since its establishment in 1987, the Erasmus program has become the most successful European exchange program in history. In 2016 alone roughly 725.000 people studied, trained or volunteered abroad with the help of the 2.2 billion Euro Erasmus budget. Though a large number of Europeans have made their first experience abroad through Erasmus, cinema has taken quantitatively little advantage of it. One possible reason is the dominance of one prototypical and very well-known film, L’Auberge espagnole (2002), which seems to be so representative that only a few directors have ever been tempted to follow the path opened by Cédric Klapisch (1961-). One of them is the young Catalan actress and film director Elena Martín (1992-), who in 2017 presented the acclaimed Júlia ist about a student who takes an Erasmus year in Berlin. Although fifteen years separate the two films, the representation of Erasmus seems to draw on certain constants such as the documentation of the coming-of-age of the protagonist and the use of a narrative structure that chronicles one academic year’s time. The latter is visualized in Júlia ist by the passing of the seasons winter, spring, and summer. Erasmus-related stories such as this are coming-of-age stories which center on the development of a personal identity that is put into question by a confrontation with alternative ways of life.

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In both films, space plays a central role and is linked to the deep-rooted concepts of the cultures of the North and South of Europe, a paradigm that is much more influential than the East-West axis. The Parisian Xavier (Romain Duris) comes to know the hedonistic Mediterranean Barcelona where he loses his ‘northern’ inhibitions, while Júlia (Elena Martín) leaves the ‘southern’ Barcelona behind to go to Berlin, where she learns independence and responsibility. Both examples use the respective cities for an effect of contrast. In L’Auberge espagnole, the Catalan capital seems plain and horizontal and espouses openness, while Paris is conceived as a vertical urban space via the administrative buildings of the university and the Ministry of Economics, where Xavier works, symbolizes a hub of elitist power. If Klapisch’s Barcelona can be regarded as a city of transcultural identity and a symbolic setting that reflects the director’s “pluralist, multicultural, multipolar, multi-ethnic and multilingual visions of European social reality” (Amago 2007: 18), the Barcelona of Júlia ist is definitely less open and pluralist. Its sky is less luminous and most of the shots are interiors, which illustrate that Júlia is caught in the enclosure of a well-off overprotective Catalan bourgeois family. Berlin, on the contrary, is – as one of Júlias professors of architecture states – horizontally open and can expand ad infinitum.

Another difference between the two films is that Klapisch’s movie still breathes the European euphoria that preceded the French and the Dutch referendums in 2005 and is discussing how to deal with cultural shocks and stereotypes (Giukin 2007), whereas Martín’s multicultural and multilingual Europe seems to have become a normality that refers much less to the European frame than to the individual choices of the protagonist.

Deeply linked to the question of identity, multilingualism is an important feature in both films. In L’Auberge espagnole, a note which hangs next to the telephone and offers standard phrases in the six languages spoken in the flat illustrates how multilingualism can be dealt with in everyday life. In the film, French is the guiding language and is spoken by protagonist Xavier Rousseau, his mother, his girlfriend Martine, his lover Anne-Sophie, her husband, and the Belgian Isabelle, a good friend of Xavier’s. The main perspective is bound to Xavier and combines an internal focalisation with a first-person narrator when Xavier makes offstage comments.

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The second group are the English-speaking characters who are all connected to flatmate Wendy: namely, her brother William, her American lover James, and her official boyfriend Alistair. Though the group lives in Barcelona, Spanish is merely the third language. The other flatmates – Lars from Denmark, Alessandro from Italy and Tobias from Germany – use their mother tongues only on a few occasions. All dramatically important scenes involve the French- and English-speaking characters, a combination which reflects the expected language skills of the target public.

In Júlia ist, the protagonist speaks Catalan with her family and friends, whereas in Berlin, she masters German right away. Both languages are equally dominant. Since Júlia speaks German, English is used only sporadically and is therefore less important as a lingua franca. On the radio and on TV one can hear Castilian in some moments, in another scene a French fellow student named Rémi sings a song in French.

Though in both films many languages are present, as we will see, they play a different role. The language question is in turn embedded in an overall identity discourse and has to be analyzed accordingly. Language is linked to three main fields of identity in the movie: social class (in this case middle class), nation, and sexuality. In this respect, both films also deliver a portrait of their generation, as Elena Martín states for her case: “Es gente muy preparada, con formación, hablamos idiomas, de clase media y media alta y sin ningún conflicto externo. Personas muy protegidas con una capacidad muy baja para enfrentarse a sus frustraciones.”1 (LGI 2017)

Average middle-class adolescents in search of themselves

Both Xavier and Júlia represent the middle class of their respective countries. Xavier’s father studied at the elite university ENA and has good contacts with the Ministry of Economics, and Júlia enjoys the comfort zone of a Catalan family with an academic background, a representative house with a swimming pool, and a caring immediate family. Apart from the fact that Erasmus students normally do not have much money, neither ←139 | 140→Xavier nor Júlia are in a precarious situation. When Xavier’s landlord raises the rent, they just take in another flatmate to share the costs, and when his girlfriend Martine dumps him, he is able to pay for a spontaneous one-day trip to France. Finances may be tight, but it is never a big issue. In the case of Júlia, money is actually never mentioned and does not preoccupy her at all.

Both protagonists seem to be completely non-religious. In Xavier’s flat, the Madonna is exchanged for a telephone and a toy robot. Klapisch seems to state with this that religion is no longer a common ground of European identity and communication, technological advances and commerce have taken its place. Klapisch at least raises the question of religion in his film, whereas in Júlia ist, religion is no longer present at all. By studying architecture, Júlia and her friends reflect on how people should live and search for a balance between individualism and community – all this far away from any transcendent aspects. In both films, the protagonists shape their way of life individually, without any religious orientation.

By leaving their home, Xavier and Júlia leave their monocultural background behind and become embedded in a multicultural European context. In L’Auberge espagnole, the multinational student flat is a microcosm of Europe that unites French, Italian, German, British, Spanish, and Danish flatmates. Júlia shares her flat only with the German Paula, but has a similar, though less numerous, mixture of nations in her project group of architecture students, composed of the French Rémi, the German Ben, and others.

If Klapisch’s European flat share subliminally has an exclusive character because his protagonists are students rather than employees or apprentices, in the case of Júlia ist, the elitism is more palpable because she studies at the famous Berlin Universität der Künste (UdK). Both films show that European multiculturalism is mainly explored and enjoyed by the social class of university graduates. Socially, Xavier and Júlia are average Europeans, i.e. conventional middle-class representatives who are ‘mediocre’ in the sense that they are neither especially ambitious nor have extraordinary gifts or talents. Without their trip abroad, Xavier and Júlia would be rather uninteresting characters, and this is exactly the reason why they are able to be so representative of the majority of Erasmus students.

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National discourses of identity

Klapisch is much more concerned with national identities than Martín. In the Making of he discusses the question of how a director should represent national standards of behavior and states that one should not caricature the cultures. In a culture-clash comedy like L’Auberge espagnole, however, there is a problem: aren’t cultural differences an essential source of laughter and entertainment for the public? Klapisch solves the problem by endowing his characters with culturally ambivalent features. On one hand, they correspond to certain stereotypes, but on the other, they break from them: a strategy that allows Klapisch to quote the clichés and to put them into perspective at the same time. The Danish Lars is prototypically taciturn and appears phlegmatic, but he is sexually quite active as the only one in the flat who has a girlfriend and also a child with a Danish girl; the Italian Alessandro is stereotypically messy and has a gift for music, but at the same time is rather introverted. During the interview with Xavier, the German Tobias asks him where he sees himself in five years, an incongruous question which cartoons the German stereotype of strategic organization, but at the same time, Tobias has a visible tattoo on his right upper arm, a sign which is meant to mark him as an individual and, back at that time, still represented a break with conventional rules of middle-class body politics.2 Soledad, the only Spaniard in the flat, is notably untagged and does not correspond to the Spanish stereotypes of fiesta or mañana mentality.

While the construction of characters involves an implicit discourse on stereotypes, Klapisch uses the British William, the brother of Wendy, to stage explicit processes of intercultural learning. William holds caricatural and simplified perspectives on cultures. He qualifies Spain as nothing else but flamenco, identifies Germany with National Socialism, calls the French frogs, and believes Italians to be unorganized. William is interculturally insensitive and offends the others with his simplistic arrogance. He greets Tobias with the Hitler salute and speaks English with a strong German ←141 | 142→military accent often used in movies about World War II. Wendy takes her brother to task and initiates a learning process which culminates in the sequel of the movie, Les poupées russes (2005), when he marries a Russian girl.

While William displays his lack of intercultural awareness in a very blunt way, despite her refined manners, the French Anne-Sophie is not very different from him on that score. The rather uptight middle-class Frenchwoman thinks Barcelona is dirty and uncivilized like the “third world”, an attitude that Xavier criticises as racist. If Klapisch stigmatises cultural insensitivity and racism, he does not negate obvious cultural differences, nor does he completely avoid anecdotic knowledge of cultures. In a night of collective drinking, he shows how differently the cultures deal with functions of the body: the British William takes his trousers off to show the others his naked buttocks, then drinks too much in short time and has to vomit in a corner of the street while next to him, Xavier is urinating in plain sight.

Apart from the comical function of the scene and Klapisch’s autocritical attitude towards his compatriots and their reputation for public urination, the question is raised of how to deal with these differences. The answer in the film is quite explicit: “We want our living together to be cool”, explains Tobias at the beginning of the already mentioned interview with Xavier. This kind of coolness refers to an intercultural tolerance which accepts differences but will start to negotiate if they become too provocative, a “coolness” hence based on the awareness of the intercultural situation.

It is to be noted though that the differences which Klapisch shows are hardly menacing to the stability of the community, which unanimously upholds its basic middle-class values of economic prosperity and secularisation. On the whole, Klapisch integrates the question of national identities into a cognitive process that consists of questioning arrogant attitudes and stereotypes. What remains are more or less anecdotic cultural standards.

None of these problems really matter in Júlia ist. When an acquaintance in Berlin, who is a photographer, asks her what she is doing, Júlia responds that she comes from Barcelona – an answer which reveals that she is not yet doing anything which might give her a professional identity, and that her origin still fills in this blank. At the same time, she does not ←142 | 143→refer to Spain, but to Barcelona, which implicitly affirms the self-concept of Catalans as belonging to a nation inside of Spain. Catalan language is a crucial aspect of her regional identity. In this respect, it is significant that Júlia never switches between Catalan and Castilian, in fact she doesn’t use Castilian at all.

Though the use of Catalan language by the protagonist gives the film a strong regional spin, no stereotypes or features actually define Júlia as Catalan. In Spain, Catalans are said to be thrifty or even miserly, punctual and stubborn, and their imagery has scatological elements (like the caganer3). Catalans themselves believe that their national character is marked by seny, a concept that refers to a form of common sense. This would be enough stereotypical material to define Júlia as Catalan, but none of it is used. The main cultural feature is the strong bond of the family which has made her more immature and less independent than her German mates who are used to living alone. But this is not specific to Catalan, rather, it is a general social feature of Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Italy. Apart from this and the fact that she likes noise, which is indeed more tolerated in Spain than in Germany, nationality is not an issue in Júlia ist. Neither do different cultural standards affect communication, nor do cultural stereotypes play a part. Júlia and her mates do not regard themselves as French, Spanish or German, but as students of architecture, and thus display an “advanced” European mentality as compared to L’Auberge espagnole.

Identity and sexual experience

Umberto Eco once called the Erasmus program a “sexual revolution” and predicted that it will bring up numerous intercultural marriages which will profoundly change the ethnic composition of the continent.4 Sexuality is indeed a central subject in the movies, too, and is closely linked there to the question of identity. It rules a number of episodes in L’Auberge ←143 | 144→espagnole: the apparently unhappy relationship of Xavier and Martine, Xavier’s conversation with the homosexual Isabelle, his affair with the married Anne-Sophie, and Wendy’s affair with the American James.

Once more Klapisch’s notion of “coolness” is shown in the attitude of Xavier towards lesbian Isabelle. She represents sexual differences that Xavier doesn’t fully comprehend in the beginning, yet later on becomes accustomed to, to the point that he is no longer shocked when the upset Alessandro tells him that he has seen Isabelle kissing another woman. Isabelle serves a didactic function for Xavier and for the public because she is able to see women from two perspectives – the male and the female – and teach Xavier how to seduce women and explain to him the mechanisms of female psychology. Trained by Isabelle, he finally manages to seduce Anne-Sophie.

What is puzzling about Isabelle is that she holds a rather misogynistic image of women, believing that they are “toutes des salopes” (“all sluts”). In Klapisch’s film, sexuality and love are not necessarily connected: Wendy has an affair with James whom she believes to be rather stupid, but still feels physically attracted to him, and Xavier gets together with Anne-Sophie without ever speaking of feelings. This sexual freedom is an important factor of the intercultural encounters the film shows, and one could even go so far as to say that this is one of its most important points. This is clearly shown when Wendy’s official boyfriend Alistair is coming for a surprise visit while she is in bed with James. The arrival of Alistair makes Wendy’s flatmates give an impressive show of solidarity in defending the right of promiscuity, because each of them rushes to the flat in order to protect Wendy.

Contrary to open relationships, which defend a transparent sexual freedom, the flatmates in L’Auberge espagnole make a pact of silence. The flat share turns out to be a community of sexual secrets that allows sexual liberty among the official partners. The inherent contradiction between the right to sexual freedom, which the film claims, and the covering up of extracurricular sexual activity is incompatible. It may in part be explained by the necessities of comedy and drama, which need transgression in order to function. Klapisch is much clearer on that point in the second example of sexual self-discovery and self-fulfillment: after the husband discovers the affair between his wife Anne-Sophie and Xavier, there is only a short ←144 | 145→moment of tension. Soon it becomes obvious that the concept of honor, that also encompasses vengeance when it is violated, is no longer regarded as a pillar of male identity: the cuckold himself seems to put up with this form of sexual freedom and says a friendly good-bye to Xavier at his farewell party. Altogether, the sexuality in L’Auberge espagnole can be described as a form of ‘happy’, i.e. unproblematic, promiscuity. Its many shades correspond to the multicultural background of the movie, and maybe it is sexuality which best expresses on screen this form of European pluralism.

Júlia ist starts quite similarly, since Júlia’s relationship with Jordi is not really working out any more. Like Martine in L’Auberge espagnole, her boyfriend doesn’t want her to leave and makes her feel guilty. As soon as Jordi announces that he is about to visit her in Berlin she breaks up with him out of fear that his presence could impede her personal development. Already before this, she had started an affair with her German fellow student Ben. Two explicit sex scenes underline the importance of sexual activity for self-exploration; in the second one, Júlia is shown on top of Ben illustrating her decision to take the lead and to decide how the act is performed. For Júlia, too, sexual experience is a part of the greater intercultural experience. Although she defines the relationship with Ben as ‘open’, i.e. without the obligation of sexual faithfulness, in reality, it will not work out for her when she sees him with another woman. As a reaction she throws herself into the arms of another guy in a club while under the influence of alcohol and music. Ben’s individual way of life, marked by liberalism, postmodern openness and lack of obligations, is hurting Júlia, who is used to commitment.

Identity and language

According to the secularised attitude of his characters, Klapisch presents a materialistic vision of humans and human identity that is uniquely dependent on the brain. Anne-Sophie’s husband is a neurologist, in one scene he makes a CT of Xavier and in another he explains the composition of the brain, citing the example of bilingual people who can lose one language completely if the brain is damaged. The brain appears to be the organ of identity and functions like the hardware of a computer, while language is software which can be erased. Later on, Xavier dreams about losing his ←145 | 146→mother tongue while walking inside of his brain, which is represented as a white apartment in which some workers tear down some of the walls and clean the floor of numerous papers which are scattered about.

From this point of view, humans are fully conditioned by their brains without any transcendence. Identity and language are thus an amount of data that undergoes a transformation during the course of the learning process. At the same time, this is not a mere mechanical process but also depends on the willingness of the person to incorporate new data.

Language as the main data code is a key factor in this process. Unfortunately, foreign languages are a huge amount of new data, and for most people, it is hard work to learn them and as a result become fully integrated members of a plurilingual society. Indeed, one quickly reaches the limits of language skills, as Klapisch’s characters have to experience at the University in Barcelona where one of the Catalan professors refuses to speak Castilian like Isabelle asked him to: “Mire yo la entiendo perfectamente, señorita. De verdad. Perfectamente. Pero usted tendría que entenderme a mí también. Estamos en Cataluña y aquí el catalán es idioma oficial. Si usted quiere hablar español, se va a Madrid o a Suramérica.”5

Though the reaction is quite harsh, the scene defends multilingualism as a key trait of Europe by giving voice to the Catalan professor. The students later discuss this issue with a co-student from Gambia and Catalonia whose explanations add another answer to the question:

Isabelle: A mí me parece contradictorio defender el catalán en un momento en el que estamos construyendo Europa.

Gambian: Yo no estoy de acuerdo. Primero porque creo que estamos hablando de identidades. Y no hay una única identidad válida. O sea, hay muchas identidades que son perfectamente compatibles. Se trata de respeto. Por ejemplo, yo tengo por lo menos dos identidades: la identidad gambiana, que traigo conmigo mismo, y la identidad catalana. Yo no creo que sea contradictorio combinar las dos identidades. (28’25 ff.)

Isabelle: I think it’s a contradiction to defend the Catalan language in the moment we are constructing Europe.

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Gambian: I don’t agree with you. Firstly, because I think we are talking about identities. And there is no unique prevailing identity. In other words, there are many identities which are perfectly compatible. It is a question of respect. For example, I have at least two identities: the Gambian identity which I carry with me and the Catalan identity. I don’t think it is a contradiction to combine the two identities.

Isabelle’s monolingual habitus and her homogenous concept of Europe and identity is confronted with that of the Gambian, who provides a much more liberal response to the question of plurality and identity. He just explains that there is no problem because identities can easily coexist and hence be multiple. Multilingualism is the best expression of it. Europe’s future is not the US ‘melting pot’; to preserve its cultural wealth, language learning becomes a central task for the European citizens.

Klapisch may be idealising the process of learning when Xavier, who had only basic language skills when he arrived in Barcelona, learns Spanish in just two months with the help of pub owner Juan. The method sounds easy: rise and go to the country and learn to speak. Language learning is a cognitive process involving much repetition that probably cannot be successfully represented on screen, and it is no surprise that its depiction is elliptic.

The omission of language learning for dramatic reasons should not, however, woo the spectator and minimise the importance of the language skills. This comes to the fore at the end of the film when Xavier decides to become a writer. The whole movie is then put in perspective as a part of the novel Xavier is writing. Sitting in front of his computer and looking at old photographs of him and his flatmates, he comments: “Je ne suis pas ça. Ni ça. Je ne suis plus ça. Ni ça. Ni ça. Ni ça. Et je suis tout ça. Et je suis lui, et lui, et lui aussi. Je suis elle, elle, elle, et elle aussi. Je suis français, espagnol, anglais, danois. Je suis comme l’Europe. Je suis tout ça. Je suis un vrai bordel.”6 (1’56’30 ff.)

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At the end of the movie, Xavier has become a radical version of the Gambian and all his possible identities. This ending certainly causes a stir of emotion in the spectator though it is not really clear exactly how Xavier can be all of them at once. The last images show a plane taking off and then melting into a mosaic. These final metaphors illustrate that the movie and the evolution of the character are to be understood as an “histoire de décollage” (story of a takeoff), as Xavier says, that it is just a beginning and that his identity will evolve into a sort of intercultural patchwork.

Júlia ist is far from making such an explicit take on language and multilingualism. The film does not even use multilingualism for alienating or comedic effects. In L’Auberge espagnole, on the contrary, Xavier is fascinated by the exotic sounding name “Urquinaona” of a famous square and metro junction in Barcelona. In another scene, Wendy speaks on the phone to Xavier’s mother, and the Frenchwoman tells her in broken English that “after fac he can telephone maman” (35’), using the French abbreviation “fac” for “university”. Wendy gets quite upset because she is confusing “fac” with a similar-sounding English expletive, until Alessandro tells her to “relax”, which provides an example of how intercultural “coolness” works.

When Júlia comes to Berlin, she seems to already have a B2 level in German because she is able to follow the lectures in UdK from the very beginning. No German name or word captives her as with Xavier in the example above, not even the long compounds that are typical of the language. Júlia navigates fluently between Catalan, German and English. And even if she never uses Castilian, we must not forget that she is bilingual and used to diglossia. Although her German is imperfect and sometimes halting, it does not pose a problem in daily communication and we never see her or her friends learning the language. In one scene, she does have difficulties with a German essay on architecture and admits to not understanding a word (39’). But even her German-speaking friend Fanny is not able to decipher the cryptic academic style. It is thus not a problem of Júlia’s language skills or of the German language as such but of the complicated style and rhetoric.

The language skills of the characters in Júlia ist allow for at least two interpretations. On one hand, they can be understood as an attribute of an advanced European youth who have developed in the time since the ←148 | 149→release of L’Auberge espagnole, in which multilingualism seemed to still be a new and challenging issue. On the other hand, it may also refer to the bourgeois and elitist context the students come from. German has the reputation of being a difficult language and is not necessarily part of the regular language curriculum in Spanish secondary schools. Good skills in German hence point to a special context, like in the case of Elena Martín herself who went to the Escuela Suiza de Barcelona (Engel 2017), which not only offers a multicultural and multilingual education with German as a guiding language, but also charges between 6.000 and 8.000 € per school year.


Although in both cases middle-class university graduates are shown as the building block of Europe, the two films deploy different visions of Europe and its linguistic diversity. In L’Auberge espagnole, variety and difference are a challenging and exciting experience. The flat-sharing community represents, in nuce, the European Union, and simulates its functioning in a playful everyday life that presents intercultural “coolness” as a solution for stress and misunderstanding. All the flatmates have developed bonds of friendship and are convinced that they are making a very enriching and unique experience. This sentiment culminates when Xavier has to return to Paris. In matters of identity, the movie combines a constructivist and a materialistic vision in which the brain is the hardware and identity is encoded by experience and language. Identity is thus a process in flux, all the more so if the person is willing to learn and open to new experiences. In the case of Xavier, this process does not end with the movie: though Xavier has a good job in the ministry, he decides to pursue his childhood dream and become a writer whose first book will recount the European experience as a flashpoint of personal growth and independence. Languages and multilingualism are the instruments which can make this vision work. Learning foreign languages appears to be a rewarding challenge to create an international community and foster personal evolution.

In this respect, L’Auberge espagnole offers an idealised and quite elaborate vision of how European communities of peoples may work, which corresponds to Klapisch’s “tendance à intellectualiser” (‘tendency to ←149 | 150→intellectualise’), as noted in the bonus material of the movie.7 Klapisch’s Europe is characterised by intercultural sensitivity, multilingualism, sexual freedom, frank communication, pragmatic solutions, economic wealth, and secularisation that all contribute to individual evolution.

The conclusions of Júlia ist are more open. Júlia’s identity is, like the title suggests, not yet defined. The copula “ist” lacks a noun or an adjective, thus leaving open to interpretation who Júlia really is. In one scene, a friend makes a sketch of her with bare breasts writing on the left side “Julia ist” and on the right “nackig” (‘naked’), which underlines that she is not yet ‘covered’ with an identity.

Unlike Klapisch, Elena Martín does not develop a generalizing concept of European community or identity. Júlia is mainly determined by what in early sociology was called “milieu”, in this case the overprotective Catalan family with its strong bonds and social obligations. Her year in Berlin is a way to break these chains, at least temporarily, and become more independent. She also has to learn that this alternative way of living is linked to less reliable and stable relationships. In Júlia ist, Europe has already become so established that the characters do not give it much thought any more. “Ya no estamos en ese punto” (‘we are no longer concerned with it’), Martín said in an interview, “todos somos europeos” (‘we are all European’; Engel 2017). Since the European framework has become nearly invisible, it is Júlia’s personal development that gets placed into the foreground.

Multilingualism is not something that she has to struggle for because it is already achieved. Foreign languages have lost their exotic and challenging appeal, they are a given part of everyday life. The differences between the two films hence point to an evolution towards a normalisation of multilingualism in the last fifteen years. However, both of the films show that this normality only pertains to the European academic middle class.


L’Auberge espagnole (2002). Dir. Cédric Klapisch. Ce qui me meut et al.

Les poupées russes (2005). Dir. Cédric Klapisch. Lunar films et al.

Júlia ist (2017). Dir. Elena Martín. Lastor Media et al.

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Amago, Samuel (2007): “Todo sobre Barcelona: Refiguring Spanish Identities in Recent European Cinema”, in: Hispanic Research Journal: Iberian and Latin American Studies 8 (1), 11–25.

Engel, Philipp (2017): “Elena Martín: ‘Hay Que Atreverse a Tomar Decisiones Sola’”, in: Fotogramas, May 23, (accessed: 07.10.2018).

Giukin, Lenuta (2007): “Europe at the Age of Ideals: (Trans)National Identities in French Cinema”, in: Excavatio: Emile Zola and Naturalism 22 (1–2), 263–272.

LGI (2017): “Elena Martín: ‘Los Erasmus tienen una capacidad muy baja para enfrentarse a sus frustraciones’”, in: La gran ilusión, 15/06,

Martín, Elena (2017): “Los Erasmus Tienen Una Capacidad Muy Baja Para Enfrentarse a Sus Frustraciones”, in: La Gran Ilusión, 15/06/ 2017, (accessed: 07.10.2018).

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1 “It is a well-prepared people, educated, we speak foreign languages, belong to the middle and upper-middle class and have no external conflicts. Highly protected people hardly capable of putting up with frustration.”

2 In 2002, when the movie was premiered, tattooing was still on its way to become as popular as it is nowadays. TV shows like Miami Ink and its spin-offs started in 2005.

3 A caganer is a figurine depicted in the act of defecation.

4 Cf. Gianni Riotta: “Umberto Eco über den Zusammenhalt in Europa. ‘Nur die Kultur verbindet uns’ˮ, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 26/01/2012 (, accessed on 04.10.2018).

5 “Look, I understand you perfectly, Miss. Really. Perfectly. But you should also understand me. We are in Catalonia and here Catalan is the official language. If you want to speak Spanish, go to Madrid or South America.”

6 “I am not this. Nor that. I am no longer that. Nor that. Nor that. Nor that. I am all that. And I am him, and him, and him too. I am her, her, her, and her too. I am French, Spanish, English, Danish. I am like Europe. I am all that. I am a real mess.”

7 See the film director’s commentary in the DVD supplement.