Films that are both inspiring journeys and inspire others to journey – the entries on this ‘The Beach’ -free zone all share the power to have you swiftly salivating at the scenery and adding a whole raft of new destinations to your ‘must visit’ list. In a blatant Harry Potter-style bid to spin out a good thing, we’ve split the list into two sections – the sequel will be released next week. Grab some popcorn, indulge, then let us know which flicks we missed.
Lawrence of Arabia – Jordan
For the ultimate in drool-inducing panoramic desertscapes, the 1962 epic remains unbeatable. It’s a remarkably dark film in tone and character, painting a complex and controversial portrait of Lawrence, as well as taking more than a few liberties with historical fact. What’s beyond dispute, however, is the majesty of the desert – the Wadi Rum in southern Jordan was one of the film’s locations, and the area more than meets the high expectations of visitors who have viewed the film. Omar Sharif’s iconic entrance, meanwhile, was shot among the mudflats of Jafr, also in Jordan. Just try to ignore the fact that southern Spain doubled for Aqaba, and that ‘Damascus’ is in fact Seville.
Motorcycle Diaries – South America
A rollicking road movie following the young Che Guevara, this is the perfect appetite-whetter for anyone South America-bound. The characters’ freewheeling gallop across plains and Andes starts joyous and raucous, rattling along on ‘The Mighty One’, Che’s beloved Norton motorcycle, but becomes more politically engaged as they visit first the Chuquicamata copper mine in Chile then a Peruvian leper colony. Wisely steering clear of didacticism, the film revels in its theme of the joys of discovery – of both place and self. Among other great locations, keep an eye out for Argentina’s Bariloche and Valparaiso, near Santiago in Chile.
Gorillas in the Mist– Rwanda
Based on the story of Dian Fossey, whose grave we visit on our Rwandan trips, this Hollywood biopic was actually filmed in Kenya, but it’s nonetheless a convincing portrayal of the Rwandan highlands, and a worthy portrayal of the conservationist. Good music, too.
The Quiet American – Vietnam
Anyone travelling to Vietnam should put the Graham Greene novel on their packing list, and the film versions aren’t bad either. The 1958 flick may be a bit talky for modern tastes (and Greene found much to fault in the film’s dilution of the eponymous American’s guilt). For performances and powerful drama, the 2002 Michael Caine movie is the one to go for – an engaging, brilliantly shot tale of love and ideals played out against a backdrop of brewing political turmoil. The film, shot on location in Vietnam, makes fine use of the pell-mell streets of Saigon.
Stealing Beauty – Italy
Liv Tyler is the coltish ingénue basking in the buttery Tuscan summer light, a season of awakening and re-awakening for her and her eccentric housemates. The director Bertolucci has done weightier films, but the Tuscan countryside has seldom looked so inviting. And the young actress may be shot all doe-eyed and alluring, but for us it’s all about the travel – the star of the show as far as we’re concerned is the magnificent Villa Bianchi Bandinelli, an ornate mansion with sculpted gardens, lying just outside Siena.
Monsoon Wedding - India
It wouldn’t be challenging to list a blog’s worth of travel films on India alone – the visual poetry and contrasts of its streets has inspired generations of international filmmakers, most famously in recent times with Slumdog Millionaire. (And, if you’re after Bollywood, 2001’s epic Lagaan is worth checking out, as is the evergreen Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.) Monsoon Wedding is a high-octane account of relatives converging on Delhi during the monsoon season to attend a wedding. The four days this film covers pass by in a whirlwind of tensions and reunions, passion and tension – a boisterous, colourful affair brimful of life, just like the city of its setting.