Monday, February 9, 2009

Vicky Cristina...Rio?: Movies That Take You There

Photo by MorBCN

Over the weekend, I went to the movies to catch Woody Allen's much-discussed Vicky Cristina Barcelona with the hope of being transported to Spain's legendary Mediterranean port city with the Freddy Mercury theme song. I was indeed wrapped up in the topsy-turvy tale of polyamory, laughing at the snappy dialogue and more than once felt exposed ("You've got chronic dissatisfaction," Penélope Cruz angrily diagnoses Scarlett Johansson). But I didn't feel like this otherwise diverting film ever engaged its titular locale. The characters and the camera passed by the major sights, going gaga over Gaudí and little else, and we got two incredibly bland panoramas over the city, both times giving me more Mexico City/Santiago/Bogotá than Barcelona. I didn't even feel a connection between the two Spanish (Catalan?) protagonists and their storied burg. I felt the same storyline could have been set, just as enthrallingly, in any hot-blooded coastal scene with loudly passionate lovers: Capri, Mykonos, Miami, Rio. I had been entertained, but not transported.

So I rented All About My Mother. The bold oranges and reds and blues, the twisty columns and arches and kitschy tile and wallpaper, the palm-lined streets, multicultural denizens, nuns and whores, wind and water, all drew me into the salty-sweet confection of Barcelona. Almodóvar made me want to experience the city in a way Woody couldn't convey. The story didn't just take place in Barcelona; the characters lived there, were a part of the place, and the place itself became a character, not just backdrop.

And I was reminded of some other movies that pique my desire to know a place or remind me of why I love that place:

Baz Luhrmann's Australia swept me up me the harsh, dusty expanse of the Outback, and rained down buckets of tropical greens and blues reminiscent of Typhoon Lagoon. It's the continental bigness of the land and sky beyond the Opera House that would have me itching to get out of Sydney.

In the wonderfully moody Eve's Bayou, the natural pleasures of the American South, specifically Louisiana, wrap themselves around the tragic Batiste family: strong oak trees with low-hanging branches suitable for lounging, flat and green fields running the length of the slow-moving waters that keep them fertile, mangroves rising from swamp like ghostly sentinels, Spanish moss hanging languorously in still, humid air.

Both Paris, Je T'Aime and Amélie purposefully ensconsed themselves so thoroughly into the oeuvre of enchantment that is Paris, that even the funky attitudes of its customer service sector couldn't keep me away after watching these cinematic love-letters (the waiters and cashiers know you'll come back, which is why they act so stank).

Another city pair, Bad Boys and Any Given Sunday, run from the squat, pastel-colored concrete and stucco of El Portal and North Dade; through the sun-beat, tropical grit of Allapattah and Liberty City; past the tangy richness of Little Haiti and Little Havana; across the man-made, mansioned isles of Biscayne Bay; down to the chic, shiny sins of South Beach. It's all the real Miami, baby.

Caracas makes an unflattering but impactful screen debut in Secuestro Express, a disturbing film about a quickie kidnapping gone awry. Around-the-clock shots of Venezuela's dirty, sweaty, crowded, intense, vivid, quirky capital - ghetto fabuloso - keep the adrenaline flowing and make me wanna throw up a hand (and not in a peace sign). In fact, I think this might be my Holy Week excursion.

Lost in Translation descends from the cream-and-onyx splendor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo into Electric Ladyland herself, a whirlwind of sound and color and people and objects that the film's protagonists can't even wrap their heads around. Maybe that's why they fall in love. And that's why I love this movie.

I know I'm missing all of the classics; these are just a few of my favorites. What are some of the movies that really take you "there?"


Fly Girl said...

This is a great post Bro. I love to be transported as well, which is why I mostly watch foreign films. Vicki Cristina is in my Netflex cue although I have to say, I wasn't expecting Woody to use Barcelona as a character. New York was always a character in his classic films but he hasn't developed the same relationship with his foriegn locales. Much as I love Match Point, London is just an aside in it. Now Almodavar, there's a director who shows his love for location! He loves Barcelona and shows the love in every way. Volver is another fave.
My all time favorite move is Sugar Cane Alley, which weaves the character of Martinque into the story.

orange_glitter said...

Off the top of my head...

'Forrest Gump'-The sequence in which Forrest decides to run across America over three and a half years.The cinematography is insane and truly captures the sheer size of America,along with the changing landscapes from coast to coast.

And.. the whole of Luc Besson's film 'Angel-A'.In the commentary he describes 'Paris' as the third character and its completely true.When people say Paris is the most romantic city in the world(after watching this) you can't help but agree.

Fly Brother said...

Fly Girl: I'll have to check out "Sugar Cane Alley". I wanted to pick a NY movie, but there are so many. Any others you can think of?

Orange: "Angel-A" is going on the must-see list, too.