I find the most captivating ‘holiday movies’ to be the ones in which the jaded protagonist ventures off in search of relaxation – a chance to charge those batteries and perhaps experience ‘something new’ – but ends up losing the plot in a quagmire of, well, insanity. There’s a picture-postcard theme of the holiday embedded in the Lonely Planet narrative and the airport page-turner. The reality can sometimes be quite the opposite. Cinema has on occasion captured the nightmarish fever of being totally vulnerable in an alien environment.
A cracking performance from Harrison Ford here in a masterful Polanksi thriller. Dr. Richard Walker and his wife hit Paris – the city of their honeymoon – in an attempt to rekindle the passion in their marriage. What results is his wife’s kidnapping and a haphazard travail through the murky criminal underworld populated by petty crooks, shady governments, and international terrorists. It’s a film way ahead of its time. Paris is (strikingly) depicted as a sprawling mess. The opening scene in the taxi is an introduction to the French capital as not the romantic destination of lore but of a dark and menacing city-circus.
The Beach (2000).
In the tourist trap that is ‘The Land of Smiles’, an unimpressed few in their pursuit of travelogue perfection seek an idyllic paradise, serene vistas without the holidaying masses. The book is a masterpiece depiction of what happens when overly impressionable humans get together in an unspoiled paradise they assume is the aesthete’s apex. The film loses its way in the final third, but for a good hour it is stunning cinema, truly capturing that obsessive pursuit of the Shangri-La. Even the ridiculous All Saints track synced to a cheesy interlude in the ocean works.
The Passenger (1975).
The Passenger channels that temptation seeping behind many an excursion – keep the holiday going, recant one’s existing life of drab conformity, construct a new identity. If no one knows you then you can be anything, so goes the dictum. The past has a way of catching up with you, though, or the circumstances of your switch to a new life are tainted. The film is a devastating picture concerned with fate, the impossibility of reinvention, and the indifference of the landscape to your psychological crises.
Don’t Look Now (1973).
I was in Venice last September. It was sublime, borderline magical, and wholly civilised. All I did was drink wine in restaurants and saunter about the alleys, a wannabe seeker of the ‘Venetian feel’. I saw a pair of underpants hoisted on some blinds and considered this window symbolic.
Anyway, that was my drama. Let’s consider Don’t Look Now (1973). The impediments to recapturing past serenity, the simultaneous allure and fear of the unknown, the idea that in an unfamiliar milieu one can transplant a spark that existed in another epoch. Metaphoric to the max as the movie is, I’ve seldom seen such a *real*, evocative portrait of holiday hell.
Sexy Beast (2000).
I love the central conceit of this: your retirement is all fine and dandy until a fellow (admittedly psychotic) Brit turns up to ruin the party. It’s very apt that the film is set in Spain. Sun and solitude ruined by a foul-mouthed ape – it’s most likely how the locals view British tourists swaggering about the Costa del Sol.