“European” co-productions: helping to build a European identity
“Co-productions allow different cultural voices to be heard and show how countries are capable of working together to create a cultural and even social work of general interest, for more than purely economic reasons.”
In the late 1980s, the European Union and the Council of Europe developed two financial assistance programs to support European cooperation in the audiovisual and movie sectors: Eurimages (1988) and MEDIA (1991). The programs were Europe’s answer to two key challenges: in economic terms, in order to develop Europe’s creative industries, funds needed to be circulated more widely and new jobs created. In cultural terms, to promote European integration, both culturally and socially, it was also important to highlight the shared cultural heritage of the Member States of the European Union.
Europe’s institutions have been instrumental in the recent success of several European movies. In fact, no fewer than ten Palmes d’Or awarded at the Cannes Film Festival have been subsidized by European institutions. What’s more, the MEDIA and Eurimages programs mainly support transnational co-productions. For example, the Palmes d’Or winners mentioned above included The Pianist by Roman Polanski (France-Poland), Amour by Mickael Haneke (France and Austria), Blue is the Warmest Colour by Abdellatif Kechiche (France, Belgium and Spain) and The Wind That Shakes the Barley by Ken Loach (Ireland, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Belgium and Switzerland (!).
Co-productions boost the European movie industry by supporting the production of European movies while helping to build a European identity. They allow different cultural voices to be heard and show how countries are capable of working together to create a cultural and even social work of general interest, for more than purely economic reasons.
Given its role in inspiring a generation of young French people to study abroad and, by extension, building the European dream, it wasn’t surprising to learn that L'Auberge espagnole by Cédric Klapisch (a Franco-Spanish co-production) was one of the movies subsidized by the EU. Xavier, an economics student, travels to Barcelona, Spain to study under the Erasmus scheme. For a year, he shares a house with six other students: Isabelle from Belgium, Wendy from England, Alessandro from Italy, Tobias from Germany, Soledad from Spain and Lars from Denmark.
Despite its straightforward plotline (the highs and lows of discovering a foreign country), this movie is clearly a metaphor for Europe, especially since the issue of identity is central to the storyline. At the start of the movie, a student of African origin explains how he feels both Gabonese and Catalan, and that these two identities are closely related. At first, Xavier doesn’t get it. Then it begins to sink in, and as he gets to know his roommates, their habits, qualities and faults, Xavier also discovers the richness of European culture. A parallel is drawn between his personal development and the construction of a European identity. He comes out of the experience personally enriched and with a deep affection for other cultures.
At the end of the movie, Xavier sums up his stay: “I’m him, him and him, and her, her and her... I’m French, Spanish, English and Danish! I’m like Europe, I’m all that, I’m a real mess…”