Life moves on in the splendid TV spin-off of Spanish Apartment movie

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Infused with the youthful urgency of twentysomethings making their way in an increasingly troubled world, the delicious eight-part Salade grecque (2023, Greek Salad) recently arrived unheralded on Prime. It deserves better. Produced by Bruno Levy for Amazon France, it’s the creation of his longtime collaborator, writer-director Cedric Klapisch, who oversaw the production and wrote and directed three episodes. It’s also a spin-off from a trio of very satisfying films he made about life’s complications.

Judith Godreche and Romain Duris in the 2002 film Spanish Apartment

Like Greek Salad, they’re multi-national comedies of manners set in different parts of the world. First came the “Euro-pudding” mix of L’auberge espagnol (2002, aka The Spanish Apartment), which followed the adventures of fresh-faced Xavier (Romain Duris), who goes to study in Barcelona on an Erasmus scholarship, discovers the delights of shared-house living and makes some new friends. Among them is Wendy, a young English woman (played by Kelly Reilly, who’s now probably best known for her role as Kevin Costner’s daughter in Yellowstone).

However, it’s only in the latter stages of Les poupées russes (2005, Russian Dolls), that they officially become a couple. But then, by the time we meet them again in Casse-tête chinois (2013, Chinese Puzzle), they’ve separated, she’s living in Manhattan and he moves there to share custody of their two children, Tom (Pablo Mugnier-Jacob) and Mia (Margaux Mansart).

Duris who’s worked extensively throughout his career with Klapisch has found himself continually moved by the trilogy. “While they’re comedies, what they’re saying is very powerful,” he explains. “They’re about the search for self. If you were so inclined, you might even take them as philosophical tales of our times.” The same is true of Greek Salad.

When I asked Klapisch in 2014 if he had in mind a further sequel, it’s clear in retrospect that the seed of an idea for it had already been planted. “I know that it would need to be about Xavier’s son leaving for a different country,” he said. “For me, that would be a good starting point.”

And that’s exactly how Greek Salad begins, with a fresh-faced Tom (now played by Aliocha Schneider) aboard a flight headed for Athens, pondering his father’s wise words: “My father always said,” he muses in a voice-over thought-bubble, “that when you take off, even when you know your destination, you never know where you’re going.”

Greek Salad begins with Tom (Alioche Schneider) heading for Athens, pondering his father’s wise words “…even when you know your destination, you never know where you’re going.”Credit: Amazon Studios

It turns out that Xavier’s axiom is right on the money. Tom is headed to Athens because his grandfather has bequeathed him a house there. He’s planning on selling it and using the funds to start up a new business with his girlfriend, Lily (Aggy K. Adams), who’s stayed behind in New York. Nothing that follows goes the way he’d anticipated. Likewise for Mia (now played by Megan Northam), who’d travelled there before him as a student on an Erasmus scholarship.

Tom’s first surprise is that the house he’d inherited is a multi-storeyed dump. The second is that it’s occupied by a handful of squatters from elsewhere in Europe, who’ve turned an upper floor into a home away from home. With Giulia (Fotini Peluso) as their spokeswoman, they urge him to hold off on the sale. Then he discovers that Mia has abandoned her studies and is working at an NGO (non-government organisation) that has become a haven for refugees from around the globe.

She’s also busy rejecting their privileged upbringings. “We can’t trust a system that only creates bankruptcy and suffering,” she tells him, later adding, “You’re in your start-up world and we’re trying to change things.” Their lives have moved in contrasting directions, and they argue about it, the series unequivocally siding with her. But as they grapple with the problems that complicate each of their lives, it becomes clear that they’re also devoted to each other.

What unfolds becomes the story of two very different households thrust together by circumstance, with all of the characters on journeys of discovery, learning about themselves, about each other and about the often cruel workings of the world. Tom and Mia are at the centre, but Klapisch and his team have built a scenario that provides economical snapshots of each of their housemates’ complicated lives. The characters in Klapisch’s films are forever telling each other how “complicated” their circumstances are, and it’s no different here.

Megan Northam as Mia in Greek Salad.Credit: Amazon Studios

La Ronde-like, the series also features numerous echoes from the preceding film trilogy: offspring who are immersed in a modern variation of their parents’ earlier lives (even if they joke about not doing that); characters searching for a place to stay in a foreign city and being introduced to the night-life there; help being given to a friend to conceal an infidelity when her partner turns up unexpectedly; Tom receiving advice about life from Socrates, Aristotle and Plutarch (“Love is like ivy. It clings to everything. Don’t blow your chance.“) just as Xavier had earlier from Schopenhauer and Hegel (a very Woody Allen strategy!); graffiti dominating the Athens streetscape as it had downtown NYC in Chinese Puzzle; and so on. And it is, like its predecessors, a complicated and often very funny comedy of manners about the differing dynamics that its characters bring to the melting-pot of which they’re a part.

Yet the tone in Greek Salad is darker. The world has changed in the decades since Tom and Mia’s parents sowed their wild oats and that is reflected in the nature of events that occur. Like the films, the series features appealing scenes of characters sharing food together: episode five’s Christmas gathering is a particular highlight, a family reunion in Xavier’s Paris home that quietly slides into hilarious farce. But whereas the trilogy deployed weddings as key backdrops, in Greek Salad it’s funerals. And the disarray of the characters’ personal relationships in the series, especially in relation to Mia, cuts more deeply.

At a time when nations around the world appear to have conspired to close their doors to the displaced and the disadvantaged, Greek Salad metaphorically opens its arms to them, embracing their struggle to find ways to move ahead with their lives. Coming together in Greece from France, Italy, Syria, Afghanistan, the Ukraine, Croatia and Czechia, and tossing five different languages into the multicultural mix, they’re all forging new beginnings for themselves.

In making the series, the 62-year-old Klapisch was concerned to draw on the experiences of those of the same age as his characters. To that end, with the help of his wife Lola Doillon (who’s credited as story supervisor and directed three episodes), he assigned an offscreen writing-room of five writers in their late 20s – Thomas Colineau, Agnès Hurstel, Paul Madillo, Eugène Riousse and Charlotte de Givry – to broaden the perspective on the story. “I hadn’t realised how much I’d aged until I saw just how much their way of thinking is so disparate,” he told Screen Daily.

So is that it for Tom and Mia, their families and newfound friends? The film leaves us with an open ending, and Xavier offering some more sage advice to Tom, who’s uncomfortable about what lies in wait for him. “Any decision’s a good decision, son,” he tells him. “Leaving’s hard, but think about what’s to come. A new life! A new adventure! It’ll be great.”

For his part, Klapisch isn’t looking too far ahead. “I have no idea if I will have the desire to return to the same characters,” he says, having obviously heard the question many times before. “But,” he adds, “I think what’s strong about all the stories is that their endings seem like new beginnings. And, for me, finding this again would be essential if I was going to add another chapter.”

Greek Salad is on Prime. The Spanish Apartment and Russian Dolls are only available on DVD (and the latter should not be confused with the Russian Doll series on Netflix). Chinese Puzzle is on Apple (rental).

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