In addition to my trips and my craving for European news and travel info, I have a few related vices that keep me from being totally depressed when I’m stuck at home.
One is my addiction to murder mysteries set in foreign locations, a topic for a future blog post. Another is TV shows with European settings, again a subject unto itself. Most of these are shown on American TV courtesy of PBS and although I can watch them repeatedly, I do wish they’d stop trimming the shows to fit the time slot. It ain’t the end of the world if a show can’t finish on the hour or the half, ya know?
The third way I keep from feeling Europe-deprived when I’m in the USA is to watch a movie with one or more European settings. For a long, long time, I would seek out foreign language movies with subtitles. That’s how I learned, among other things, the Swedish word for window (fenster) and the French word for jellyfish (meduse). Lately, though, I don’t go to the movies much at all. That’s at least partly because the number of foreign films that make it to the screen in central CT has dropped quite a lot in the past ten years or so. Ticket prices are also beyond ridiculous and the closest screen that might have the kind of movie I’m talking about is at least a half-hour away.
The movies I enjoy now are more likely to be English language films set in other countries or ones, like the new James Bond flicks, that have dishy European stars in the main role/s. Dozens of foreign films will show up on my list if I ever bother to sign up for Netflix, but until then, I have a bunch on DVD that I will watch again and again. I call them Sunday morning movies because that’s when they tend to appear on teevee. Most of them have exterior scenes that make me want to jump through the screen and into the cafe, pub, medieval street or other setting. Here are a few that make my travel soul itch…
Sliding Doors – Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah playing the same characters in two parallel story lines in modern London. I love this movie!
Midnight in Paris – my new all-time favorite. There’s no better love letter to Paris.
Both Bridget Jones movies – London again, and then there’s Colin Firth. There’s also something alluring about watching a bunch of good friends enjoying the city they live in, especially if it’s somewhere I’ve spent time.
Almost anything with Hugh Grant. Yes, he’s cute and all, but most of his movies co-star London in some way and London, after all, is my favorite city in the world, even edging out my home town of NYC. Think Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill (with a young and decidedly unlordly Hugh Bonneville) and Love Actually (shots of central London at Christmas and scenes at London Heathrow that remind me that I’M NOT THERE RIGHT NOW!)
The Italian Job – I don’t remember the original, but the locations in Venice and the Alps in the first half of the remake are great.
The Bourne trilogy in general, but especially The Bourne Ultimatum – my favorite part is the segment shot in Waterloo Station, even though Eurostar doesn’t leave from Waterloo any more. You can see shop names as they race around the place – Monsoon, Upper Crust (my go-to chain for a quick snack when I’m over there), Boots, Waterstone’s. I’ve been known to spend time in the major British Rail hubs even when I’ve no train to catch. It’s as energizing to me as an airport.
Under the Tuscan Sun (Italy) – haven’t read the book, so don’t know what liberties the movie takes. It makes me imagine that I could engineer a similar experience in Europe, forgetting for a moment that the world belongs to the thirty-somethings and I got bounced from that age group a long time ago. Shots of Cortona and Positano are visual dope-slaps that remind me I need to go to Italy. Soon!
Casino Royale – as mentioned above. The new one with Daniel Craig. The Czech Republic stands in for Montenegro and there’s a market square I could swear I’ve been to in Prague. Sailing into Venice’s Grand Canal makes me want to skip all my current travel plans and put Venice at the top of the list. Not to mention one of my all-time favorite love scenes – no, not the ones near the end; I’m talking about the scene in the shower after the bloody fight in the stairwell.
Local Hero, Braveheart and Rob Roy (Scotland, especially the Highlands);
A Room with a View (Florence on the grand tour);
Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves – the best part is a great cameo appearance by Hadrian’s Wall.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (French Riviera) – I don’t especially enjoy Steve Martin, but Michael Caine is always watchable and it makes you think that it never rains on the Riviera!
Girl with a Pearl Earring (Netherlands). The book was terrific as well and so much of the old architecture in the Netherlands is still there. Belgium, too.
OK, so most of the movies I’ve listed are Brit-flicks. As I said, foreign language films haven’t been on my radar much lately. Even so, here are a few that stick in my memory…
France – A Man and a Woman (bien sur!); L’Annee des Meduses – not much plot but I could almost follow the dialogue without looking at the subtitles, which convinced me that I could survive traveling in France even with my lousy French.
Bread and Tulips – (Italy)
Then there are a bunch of movies where the setting is either vague or seemed less central to the narrative, such as Gosford Park or Educating Rita. Much as I enjoyed The Queen, it’s more character study than London travelogue.
Even fantasy helps me to forget that I’m on the ‘wrong’ side of the Atlantic – films such as Excalibur, Robin and Marian (Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn – a sweet little movie). These are off-topic, but only just.
Wow! I thought my list would only include about a dozen movies when I started this essay. Once I got going, all sorts of movies came back into my mind. There are some recent ones I’ve yet to see, such as In Bruges and The King’s Speech because they are set in Europe, though it remains to be seen whether they’ll show off their setting/s in ways that will make me want to revisit.
Of course, there are hundreds of movies with European locations or story lines that are terrific to watch, but which really don’t trigger my Travel Magpie wanderlust. This includes war movies like The Longest Day, Das Boot and The Duellists(a Napoleonic-era story of two soldiers and their need to maintain the upper hand in a matter of honor; Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel). Two other movies in this category are –
Closely Watched Trains (Czechoslovakia – but only the subtitled version; the voices in the dubbed version ruined the story). Not much of a travelogue but it interested me because both my paternal grandparents were born near Prague.
Soldier of Orange (Netherlands) – this movie introduced me to Rutger Hauer and both the subtitled and dubbed versions are outstanding – a story of Dutch Resistance during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, it got me interested in that country.
I’ll wrap up with Shakespeare as a final sub-category. Tops are Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and the fluffy Shakespeare in Love. Even if the locations aren’t precisely recognizable for a tourist, these movies help me to think that the magic and energy they portray are still to be found ‘over there’.
Travel dreams are as personal as any other kind. Which movies do you like to watch when you want to escape to a favorite destination? Let me know!