What is it that makes a good film about travelling - is it stunning scenery or adventurous plot lines that are somehow incorporated into the landscapes? Exotic destinations? Maybe it is a combination of the three, as in the recent hit Eat, Pray, Love about how to drop everything and go travel around the world. When I think “travel movie”, I might also think of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that showcased some of New Zealand’s finest places even though it isn’t about the location or travelling per se. Carrying on, I might even recall Eurotrip from the early 00’s: an average-at-best raunchy teen comedy full of stereotypes and cliches, I reckon it spoke to many teenagers dreaming of their first journey. Or, say, the Hangover movies readily serve as an extreme synonym of “trip gone wild” - and those happen in real life, too. But do these movies have something to it that gives me itchy feet? Not quite.

A film that inspires me to go away is not necessarily about travelling. Such inspiration comes from films that evoke curiosity, but stories translating a sense of self-discovery and awakening do not always call for an exotic backdrop. Bonus points if they transport you to the setting - which might as well be quite spectacular - and put the location into context, yet just an amazing location won't make the cut. So, I compiled a list of films that give me that very kick to explore, be it the world, the neighbourhood or my own mind.

Lost in Translation

My all-time favourite, this Tokyo-set story is about two people who happen to stay at the same hotel and have virtually nothing in common but share the feeling of loneliness and apathy. When they eventually meet each other amidst the chaos of the city, they bond over the apparent crisis and emptiness of their personal lives. The discomfort of being in a radically foreign place amplifies their shared unhappiness, and it culminates when Bob (Bill Murray) says to Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson): "I'm trying to organise a prison break. We'd have to first get out of this bar. Then the hotel, then the city and then the country. Are you in or are you out?”. Their newly developed connection highlights the fact that though they are different, they are lonely in the same way. Amazing views of Tokyo and its surroundings, stunning soundtrack and subtle plot make this film a pleasure to watch again and again.

> Get it on iTunes here

Into the Wild

Christopher McCandless had just graduated from university among the top of his class when he left everything behind and took off on a long-desired trip away from the conventional ways of living. Into the Wild is believed to be an account of what happened to Chris, or as he named himself, Alexander Supertramp, as captured in his road notes throughout this journey around the US, Mexico and final destination, Alaska. Sean Penn’s presentation of the story is an attempt to shed light on his background and the following pursuit of ultimate freedom - from boundaries of the society, wealth, and material values. The reckless idealism of Chris’s actions is compelling and this testament to it evokes awe, even more more so when we see him scribble some of his last words: “Happiness only real when shared”.

> Get it on iTunes here

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Similar to that of Lost in Translation, the premise of this film is that it is not the place that makes us unhappy, the problem more often than not lies in us. Hector is a middle-aged psychiatrist based in London who goes about his day in a mundane and tedious routine with the help of his girlfriend. Every-so-often he is haunted by flashbacks of his joyful childhood adventures and rousing dreams, which leads to him feeling incompetent at giving advice to his troubled patients. He then travels to China, Africa, and Los Angeles to research what makes people feel fulfilled and happy at the same time discovering what makes happy himself - and seems to succeed at it, reasonably pointing out that “making comparisons can spoil your happiness”. While I got a little annoyed by some aspects of the movie (for instance, Hector’s childlike and cringely naive behaviour), I would recommend it especially to those who fall into the trap of thinking “everything would be different/fine if only…” and those who have a daunting routine of their own.

> Get it on iTunes here

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring

The story unfolds different stages of the life of a Buddhist monk and his young apprentice as seasons and years pass by. Dwelling in a monastery that floats on a lake in the serene mountains of Korea, they pursue a life of prayer and mediation while the master patiently guides the student through maturity and teaches him to understand the consequences of his actions. Kim Ki-Duk, who is usually known for his dark style, this time directed a film that encompasses the inevitable cycle of life through the exquisite beauty of both a visual interpretation and a narrative based on fundamental Buddhist notions.

> Get it on iTunes here

A Good Year

Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) is a stuck-up London banker who doesn't seem to care much about anything other than making a fortune on the stock market. Upon learning about his uncle's death and inheriting the vineyard in Provence where he spent childhood, he travels there only to check in on things before selling the estate. The trip, of course, goes out of hand after a series of unforeseen events. Reluctant Max eventually softens up and figures out that there is more to life than business and money, leading us to a happy ending full of romance (aw). I was a little hesitant to include it in the list, but this light comedy is great for a gloomy day, not to mention it will make you urge to book a trip to southern France.

> Get it on iTunes here

Before Sunrise (plus Before Sunset and Before Midnight)

An American tourist and a French student meet on the train from Budapest and strike a casual conversation about life, everything and nothing. He has to catch a morning flight home from Vienna, she’s going home to Paris, but he convinces her to get off the train and spend the evening exploring the city together. As they wander around town, the initial attraction grows and intensifies, whereas the clock is ticking and they know the romantic counter will soon come to an end. Despite the seemingly perfect on-the-road kind of fling, the two decide that the night was the night and there should be no expectations beyond it, yet promise to see each other at the exact same place 6 months later without exchanging any contact information. Bear in mind that the first film was shot in 1995 (aka the pre-facebook era)! Not to spill the spoilers I shall stop right here. Recommended to watch the whole trilogy at once (so grab a friend and a bottle of wine). Warning: little action and much romantic talk but insightful talking that might inspire you to seize the day.

> Get it on iTunes here


Home is a documentary that addresses the damage done to the Earth by modern humanity, tackling critical issues such as global warming, deforestation, recycling and many more and showing how interconnected they are. Mind you that this film is fully sponsored by the PPR Group (nowadays known as Kering), a French luxury goods holding company, as part of their public relation strategy - oh the irony! - so some of their statement to be taken with a grain of salt. The bottom line, however, is strong and clear: change will not happen overnight or until governments and corporations cut on greed, but it is our mutual responsibility to push the right initiatives. The alarming statistics and stunning aerial images of the planet as production took place in over 50 countries, from Russia to Brazil, will leave no one indifferent.

> Available in HD on Youtube here

Midnight in Paris

While this isn’t the deepest of his movies, Woody Allen turns Paris into a virtual character so charming it is almost impossible to resist. The film follows Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), an American screenwriter on holiday with his slightly egocentric wife-to-be Inez (Rachel McAdams), who does not seem to share his passion for the high culture of the 1920s or romantic notions of the city. One night Gil wanders off and gets lost in town when a car pulls over next to him and the passengers invite him to join them. It just so happens that they are Zelda and Scott Fitzerald, later taking him to meet Hemingway, Picasso, and Dalí. As the line between the past and the present starts to get blurry, Gil has an epiphany that concludes the film. Even if the story doesn’t do it to you, the cinematography will - these Parisian scenes validate almost any time travel fantasy.

> Get it on iTunes here

South Pacific

I came across this 6-episode series by BBC upon return from Fiji and my newly discovered interest in South Pacific so strong that I was already planning another trip to the area. The documentary is a comprehensive overview of the evolution of these islands, which are some of the most remote in the world, with respect to flora and fauna as well as human cultures. Both the region’s wildlife and people display unique features due to the isolation that make them truly one-of-a-kind, yet the diversity across the Pacific is also remarkable. The series is as fascinating as it is educational and does a great job at promoting these underrated islands.

> Get it on iTunes here

What films have inspired you to travel before?

#movies #scribbles #blog #inspiration #documentaries

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