Life as a “slow traveller”/expat can sometimes make you forget how much you love getting out there and exploring. Settling in to the hustle and bustle of city life in a foreign country is a perfect way to really soak up the new culture and quirks but, at times, the routine can also prove distracting.
The schedule you always promised yourself you wouldn’t get into; The meet-ups for dinner, drinks and dancing with friends on the weekend; Knowing how to navigate your way around public transport; The once-a-week shop to the local food market; The steady paychecks; The comfort of crashing into your own bed at the end of an exhausting day. It’s hard to deny that there’s a certain pleasure that comes along with the little things that make up every day life.
Experiencing a new country, a new language and a new way of life suddenly becomes normal. It’s not a new way of life anymore; It’s just life.
Luckily, as a film geek, whenever I’m starting to feel the mundanity or suffocation of ‘real life’, I pop on a bunch of films that remind and re-inspire me to keep pushing forward towards my next adventure, showing me that the world is a big place I still need to covet.
Here’s that list of films:
1. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Woody Allen’s European trilogy all kicked off with the story of two friends, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), who decide to spend the summer in Barcelona. Along the way they meet and fall for the charms of local artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) and find themselves also thrown into the psychotic episodes of his ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz).
I avoided watching this film for years after it came out; At the time all anyone could talk about was the love scene between Johansson and Cruz and there was no mention of an actual story. Once I did get round to it, however, it blew my mind. Not only is the story infused with all the quirkiness and hilarity that is so typical of Allen’s writing but the cinematography is some of the most remarkable I’ve ever seen. Barcelona, a city usually described as ‘rough’ and ‘dirty’, is shot like a beautiful haven, incorporating all the old-style colonial buildings and exquisitely bright colours of the streets, markets and art that’re peppered throughout each scene.
Barcelona is a character of its own in this story and every time I watch it, it makes me want to fly across the Atlantic and explore my own continent a bit more.
2. Midnight in Paris (2011)
This was possibly one of the most inspiring films I’ve seen in a long time. Gil (Owen Wilson), a Hollywood screenwriter-turned-novelist is enjoying a holiday in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her conservative parents. While Gil dreams about finding inspiration in the old relics, scenery and antiques around him, Inez is more concerned with the practicalities of modern life and impressing her psuedo-intellectual friend Paul (Michael Sheen). One night, while roaming the streets of the city, Gil finds himself transported back to the ’20s, an era he idolises, encased in a world full of jazz, liqueur and flappers, befriending (and romancing) some of the greatest minds of the early twentieth century (Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, Dali, Picasso).
As a fellow writer who completely gets the attraction to old-time Paris that Gil longs for, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was living out my fantasy with him when I watched this. Not only does it include some of my own creative and artistic heroes in a time period I absolutely adore, but the incredible placement and stunning backdrops of Paris in each scene remind me why I love that city so much. Paris was the first city I ever visited outside the UK and this film is a remarkable tribute to the old beauty we can still find across Europe.
3. Eat Pray Love (2010)
Shutup! I know it’s an obvious – and extremely girly – choice but I do love this film. As I wrote before, I hated the book to the point where I couldn’t finish it, but the film – with all it’s cheesiness – is something I can’t help but adore.
Fresh from her divorce and uncertainty about where her life’s heading, Elizabeth Gilbert decides to pack up her life for a year and visit three places she’s always dreamed of – Italy, India and Indonesia. Along the way she learns important lessons about love, life and herself.
This film is stacked full of travel clichés – finally feeling comfortable with one’s outer beauty even after over-indulging on the local delicacies; finding your true self through different spiritual paths and meeting new people; the dalliances and lovers we inevitably encounter on our journey – but I love it because it’s true. The old “finding yourself” stereotype that comes along with every story about living in new places and seeing new things is true. We do change. And Eat Pray Love is the perfect example of that.
4. Into the Wild (2007)
Anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while knows that this is the film that inspired me to sell everything I own and just get out there and leave.
Directed by Sean Penn, the story of how Chris McCandless got rid of everything he owned and gave away all his money to hit the road and live simplistically away from the materialistic world he’d been raised in is one of the most inspiring I’ve ever heard. For two years he hitchhiked his way around the States before finally making it up to Alaska to “live off the land”, completely isolated from civilisation, with only what he had on his back.
While a lot of people criticise Chris for not educating himself more about the Alaskan wilderness, I look up to his determination and strength in leaving everything he knew behind and chasing his dreams. He lived how he wanted to live and did it until the end. Emile Hirsch plays McCandless in a way that’ll grab you from the inside, completely transforming his physical appearance for the journeys he takes. Not only does the film feature some breathtaking shots of Alaska and gorgeous scenery of the States but the story will really hit you hard on the heart and make you question why you might be putting all your dreams aside too.
5. Diarios de Motocicleta (2004) (The Motorcycle Diaries)
When he was 23 Ernesto Guevara and his friend, Alberto Granado, set off on a motorcycle to explore South America. What begins as a journey of youthful debauchery and fun soon transforms into a life-changing trek through the Latin American injustices and social classes that begin to shape the revolutionary leader we’ve all grown to know.
I was reluctant to watch the film at first given how much impact the book (Guevara’s real-life diary entries) had had on me. However, when I finally did I was thrilled to discover that the adaptation is close to perfection, incorporating so much from Guevara’s diaries, it’s hard to remember those little things that were cut out.
Gael Garcia Bernal excels (as always) as Guevara and the film is nothing short of inspirational, really driving forward all the key elements that make the diaries so powerful: Lessons about society and class, particularly in Latin America; Lessons about humanity and what we’re doing; And, moreover, lessons about how we see ourselves and what strengths we can use to make an impact.
6. The Last King of Scotland (2006)
A strange choice to include in a list of films about travel given its brutal content at times but there’s something about this film that always sparks my desire to go off and explore.
The film tells the story of Nicholas (James McAvoy), a young doctor recently graduated from medical school, who goes off in search of adventure, taking a job at a clinic in Uganda. One day, after coming across a road accident, Nicholas meets the new President, Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), and after treating his arm and making an impression on the leader, is invited to become his personal physician. What follows is a frightening tale of dictatorship, corruption, political repression and entrapment.
While Nicholas’ position isn’t exactly something you envy, it’s his journey into a land he’s never explored and his naivety while diving into a world he knows nothing about that captures your attention. He’s a doctor who can go anywhere to help people; He’s using his strengths to make his own adventures. That’s what inspires me.
7. A Map for Saturday (2007)
If you’ve ever travelled or have thought about travelling, this one’s for you.
In 2005 Brook Silva-Braga gave up his high-flying job and lifestyle to go backpacking around the world. What emerged was a documentary made from all the adventures he managed to capture on tape: Those breathtaking sights that we can’t describe to those who aren’t there; The hostels; The every day task of budgeting; The backpackers you stay with; The locals you meet; The hellos and goodbyes that somehow get easier; The romances along the way; The loneliness; The weariness; The excitement; The eventual sense of time escaping you. And then, of course, the empty feeling that snags you when you return home and go back to ‘real’ life (something I haven’t experienced yet but will be very shortly).
People who have always had that wanderlust surging through them will know exactly where Brook is coming from. They’ve been in his position and will completely relate to his adventures around the world. Those who’ve never travelled but have always wondered about it, and those who’ve never had the urge to see the world but want a better understanding of how “the others” could possibly do that, really should get a hold of this and watch it. I may not have been on my RTW trip yet but I’ve travelled a lot and have been part of the backpacking community that Brook captures perfectly.
This film is a gift, a reminder about why we follow our heart and take to the open road.
8. Before Sunrise (1995)
Two strangers, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), meet on a train running through Europe. Both are on their way back home: Jesse to the States, Céline to Paris. When the train stops in Vienna, Jesse asks Céline to get off with him and walk around the city until morning. Feeling the mutual connection, Céline agrees. The two then take to the streets of Vienna, talking and connecting in ways they’ve never experienced with other people before, against a backdrop full of rich culture, away from the places they know best.
What I love about this film is the dialogue between Jesse and Céline. As they wander around the beautiful Austrian city at sunset and night, each scene is beautifully crafted in a different location, letting us get a peak into the world around them while they create their own private bubble, completely immersing themselves into each other’s lives.
It’s the kind of talk a lot of travellers have when they meet someone they have a spark, a connection with; You might have felt completely lost at home but sometimes it takes a little piece of conversation from a stranger to know that you’re not alone.
9. Before Sunset (2004)
For those of you who haven’t seen Before Sunrise and would like to, stop reading here.
In Before Sunset we pick up with Jesse and Céline 9 years later. Like in the first film, they only have limited time to catch up until Jesse’s flight; Unlike the previous film, the scenes are shot in incredible long shots through the streets of Paris, barely cutting between dialogue.
Not only do I prefer this film to it’s original – the scenes between Jesse and Céline are that much more realistic, less ‘Hollywood’ but full of emotion and raw honesty – but I love the fact that we get the opportunity to take an incredible stroll around some of Paris’ most beautiful areas while watching these characters interact.
Like Midnight in Paris, this film reminds me why I fell in love with this city at just ten years old and kept going back there for years to soak up more and more each time.
10. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
After divorcing her cheating husband, Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) decides to take a trip to Tuscany after a little persuasion from her best friend, Patti (Sandra Oh). While travelling through Cortona, Frances chances upon a beautiful – but decaying – villa which she impulsively buys and vows to renovate. Following her on a series of amusing and – at times – heartbreaking events, the film tells the story of Frances’ journey into self-discovery as she surrounds herself with new friends, new lovers and new scenery.
While it may be a sweet and predictable story, Under the Tuscan Sun is still a feel-good film and one that explores the trials and tribulations of starting a new life in a new place.
11. 2 Days in Paris (2007)
I also dare anyone to watch this and not fall in love with both Julie Delpy and Adam Goldberg.
Delpy both directed and wrote this fabulous tale about a couple spending two days in Paris before heading home to New York. Delpy’s quirky and temperamental Marion is a perfect accompaniment to Goldberg’s neurotic and hypochondriacal Jack and as the two explore the city, catching up with old friends (and lovers), interacting with those around them and trying to fit in a little tourism, their relationship is tested on a number of levels as each begin to feel increasingly insecure with the events that occur.
Some of the high points of this film include the way Marion and Jack interact with each other. These are not ‘relationship’ conversations you’d find in a Hollywood film; These are the crazy (and often hilarious) talks we have with our lovers when our neurosis gets the best of us. Jack’s inability to speak French is also a perfect nod to those of us who’ve been in that position before; You’re the only person in the room who doesn’t understand what’s going on because of the language barrier and being forced to watch body language can often lead to misinterpretation.
Not only is this film another fabulous tribute to one of my favourite cities but I absolutely fucking adore the characters and how hilariously real the dialogue is.
12. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
This was the first Mexican film I ever watched and is still my absolute favourite.
Two teenage boys, Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), take a road trip through Mexico with an older Spanish woman (Maribel Verdú) in her late 20s. While the trio embark on their own personal discoveries about friendship, sex, life and each other within the confines of their car, the harsh realities of some of Mexico’s poorest rural communities continue right outside.
This is a fabulous film that not only explores the coming-of-age stories of two young men but also presents the cruel divide that still exists between social classes in Mexico. It’s easy to forget about the towns and villages outside Mexico City (where Julio and Tenoch are from) and even easier to shut yourself away from it. But what I love about this film is how perfectly and carefully shot each scene is to show the contrasts between the personal transitions going on inside the car and the broken down poverty of the Mexican world outside.
Anyone who has ever explored Mexico knows how true to life this story is. Mexico City isn’t without its problems but too many tourists don’t get to explore the rest of the country and see how non-Chilangos really live. This is a stunning representation and one that will always remind me of Mexico.
13. Brokedown Palace (1999)
Two friends, Alice (Claire Danes) and Darlene (Kate Beckinsale), take a trip to Thailand after graduation. Enjoying the new sights and sounds of the new culture, they soon meet Nick, a charming Australian looking for fun and a little romance. He soon invites them both on a trip to Hong Kong which the girls willingly accept. At the airport, however, the police stop them and find heroin in one of their bags before throwing them into a violent and dirty women’s prison. The film follows the girls as they struggle to cope with life behind bars while their lawyer, Hank Green (Bill Pullman), attempts to start a campaign which he hopes will have them pardoned.
While this isn’t a travel situation most of us would like to find ourselves in, it’s the differences in cultures that’re represented in this story that fascinates me. The squalid conditions of the prison; The legal system; The reactions of the other prisoners to the new foreign girls; The inability to understand new things which are so normal to those around them. It all feeds in to how we view the places we visit when we travel. And, while it doesn’t paint the best picture of Thailand, it still makes me want to visit that part of the world.
14. The Mosquito Coast (1986)
In his best role to date, Harrison Ford plays Allie Fox, an inventor who’s grown frustrated and tired with modern America’s consumerism. One day it all gets too much and he announces to the family that they’re leaving the United States.
Told from the point of view of his oldest son, Charlie (River Phoenix), The Mosquito Coast follows the family as they arrive in Belize to buy a tiny village called Jeronimo in the rainforest along the river. While Allie’s dream of building a ‘new’ back-to-basics civilisation is welcomed at first by the locals, his obsession and erratic behaviour begin to spiral out of control with every challenge they face, threatening to put the lives of the people around him in danger.
I can’t say enough about this film, especially because I don’t think enough people have seen it. If you’ve ever taken a look at the modern, white, Western, Capitalist world and been disgusted even for a second, this is a film to watch. You’ve never seen Harrison Ford the way you have here and the stunning, isolating jungle atmosphere around the family only provides more intensity to each scene. While we know I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to camping in the jungle, this kind of film makes me want to give it a go again.
15. Lost in Translation (2003)
Why does it take me so long to watch these films? I literally only saw this for the first time a few weeks ago and absolutely adored it.
Bob (Bill Murray), an aging actor, is in Tokyo to film ads for a whisky brand. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a recent college graduate, has come along for the ride with her husband (Giovanni Ribisi) who also has to work in the big city. While everyone else around them seems to be getting on with life and enjoying the experience, both Bob and Charlotte find themselves experiencing a whirlwind of culture shock, insomnia and loneliness that they can’t seem to pull themselves out of.
It is their inability to interact with those around them and feelings of being “lost” in both an alien culture and their own personal lives that draw Bob and Charlotte to each other and so begins a fast and intense friendship and connection that tries to save them from their own problems.
Anyone who’s ever been unsure about where they are in their lives knows that that feeling can only be amplified when you’re in an exotic place alone. Relationships develop faster when you finally meet someone who’s going through the same and Bob and Charlotte’s relationship is a perfect symbol for that. When they finally meet and start spending time together, Tokyo doesn’t seem so different and scary. When they’re alone, culture shock takes hold, and this is why the film is excellent at showing the comfort we find in having people with us when things get overwhelming in new places. When someone’s with you, it’s hard to be afraid.
– 2 Days in New York (2012): This film doesn’t inspire me to travel but it’s worth mentioning because it’s the fabulous (and equally hilarious) sequel to 2 Days in Paris that everyone really needs to see.
– To Rome With Love (2012): Again, this isn’t a film that inspires me to travel but if you love Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris, you have to watch the last of Allen’s European trilogy.
– L’Auberge Espagnole (2002): I know a lot of people watched this and were inspired to travel to Europe but, yet again, this wasn’t one that inspired me to get on the road. I really like it though. Half the time it reminds me of being in university; The other half reminds me of moving to a strange new city for the first time and meeting other foreigners in hostels who’re looking for somewhere to live too. Worth a watch.
What films inspire you to travel?