It’s the middle of summer, and I’m feeling the pangs of wanderlust. Even though I live in a tourist destination, my heart yearns for different lands. Mediterranean ones, to be exact. But facing an incredibly tight budget this summer, I can only escape the cheapest way I know how: movies. Here are a few of the movies I watch when I want to get away: movies in which the settings play as big a role – and look just as good – as the main characters.
His Secret Life (2001)
In His Secret Life (Le Fate Ignoranti), Antonia and Massimo are a successful, happily married couple. But when Massimo dies unexpectedly, Antonia discovers that he was leading a double life, which included a longtime boyfriend, Michele, and an extended family of LGBTQ friends. Antonia finds liberation from her upper middle class lifestyle as she goes deeper into Massimo’s world.
The film is set in the artsy and traditionally working class neighborhood of Ostiense, on the south side of Rome. The neighborhood’s distinctive gasometer is always visible from the rooftop, where characters dine, laugh, and hang out over bottles of wine. Director Ferzan Ozpetek is a longtime resident of the neighborhood and it shows. You get a glimpse of Rome on the fringes.
Stealing Beauty (1996)
Nineteen-year-old Lucy is sent to visit family friends at a villa in Tuscany, Italy. The pretext of the trip is to have her portrait done by her mother’s friend, but Lucy is on a mission. She wants to reconnect with a crush she met a few summers earlier. She also wants to find her biological father using clues from her mother’s journal.
Director Bernardo Bertolucci made a gorgeous film that takes advantage of sweeping vistas and the vibrant, colorful countryside. The movie is enveloped in a soft, golden light reminiscent of lazy summer days and candlelit nights.
La Piscine (1969)
Starring Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, La Piscine (The Pool) follows Jean-Paul and Marianne, a beautiful, sexy couple spending the summer at a guest house. Things are peaceful until an old flame and his daughter make a surprise visit, igniting a passion and jealousy that lead to fatal results.
La Piscine was filmed at an estate in the hills just south of Saint-Tropez, France, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. This movie is dripping with style, including the beautiful scenery of the French Riviera, the home’s architecture and landscaping, Delon’s speedy, little sports car, and the fabulous women’s fashion.
Audrey Tautou plays a professional gold digger who meets her match in Priceless, a French romantic comedy. Tautou is perfect in this role as the selfish and seductive Irène, who tries to teach her craft to a down-and-out bartender whom she mistook for a rich playboy.
This lighthearted film takes you on a tour of the jet-set lifestyle: the lavish hotels, swanky parties, and upscale boutiques from Biarritz to Monaco. Just fix yourself a cocktail and enjoy the ride.
Sex & Lucia (2001)
Sex and Lucia weaves a dark, intricate tale of missed connections. Lucia falls madly in love with an author after reading his book. She confesses this to him, and an afternoon of steamy sex leads to a loving relationship. When tragedy strikes and Lucia thinks she has lost her boyfriend forever, she runs away to a secluded island that held special meaning to him. There she rents a room from Elena, not realizing the powerful bond the two women share.
The film was shot in Formentera, the smallest and quietest of Spain’s Balearic Islands. With its arid and rocky landscape, azure waters, and gray mud flats, the island’s beauty is other-worldly. Visually, the Formentera scenes are the most memorable.
L’Auberge Espagnole (2002)
In L’Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment) we meet Xavier, a French foreign exchange student living in Barcelona, Spain, with six other European roommates. The film follows the group as they fall in and out of love and develop lasting friendships.
But it’s Barcelona that takes center stage. The movie showcases some of its most famous landmarks, such as the quirky Parc Güell and the majestic Sagrada Familia cathedral. You wind through the narrow streets of the Old City, chill in its quaint plazas, and glimpse the sun-drenched beach all for the price of a movie rental.
Wild Card Pick: Morvern Callar (2002)
Morvern Callar, the title character, uses her boyfriend’s suicide to escape a boring, listless existence in Scotland. She dumps his body, steals his credit cards, and claims his unpublished novel as her own before heading to an all-inclusive resort with her best friend. Rolling on ecstasy and lost in music, Morvern embarks on a hazy journey with no real destination.
Morvern Callar was filmed in the Scottish Highlands and southern Spain. Make no mistake: The sense of place has everything to do with this movie. But I included this film not for the locations, but for Morvern’s need (albeit desperate) to escape, to travel, to shake things up. Her amoral character aside – isn’t that what wanderlust is about?
Do you have a favorite movie that feeds your wanderlust? Share them with me!