SPECIAL REPORT

Around the World On Celluloid

by Chongwan Tay
15 Jun 2017

Travelling, getting away, or escaping, are the stories told in these 8 movies you have to watch

For those who believe that books are the superior medium when it comes to fueling the human imagination, here’s what Martin Scorsese has to say: “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.” Like many books they are based on, movies are stories that depend on what is omitted, just as much as what is shown. We picked these movies because they take you on journeys that are far beyond what is depicted on the screen.

  • AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, 1956
  • Y TU MAMá TAMBIéN, 2001
  • NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959
  • SAMSARA, 2011
  • THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, 1999
  • 2046, 2004
  • LOST IN TRANSLATION, 2003
  • CINEMA PARADISO, 1988

Around The World In Eighty Days, 1956

It was quite the feat to bring to life Jules Verne’s novel, even in 1955, when transportation and technology had made it possible to traverse the globe in less than half the amount of time it took Phileas Fogg. The movie was filmed in 75 days, 13 countries, on 140 built sets, with 8552 animals and a cast that included David Niven, Cantinflas, Shirley MacLaine, Charles Boyer, Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra and many other star cameos. Verne’s imagined world materialized on screen in the hands of producer Mike Todd, who died in a plane crash 18 months after the movie was released. To this day, the movie is still one of the biggest and most spectacular film projects ever done in Hollywood.

  • AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, 1956
  • Y TU MAMá TAMBIéN, 2001
  • NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959
  • SAMSARA, 2011
  • THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, 1999
  • 2046, 2004
  • LOST IN TRANSLATION, 2003
  • CINEMA PARADISO, 1988

Y Tu Mamá También, 2001

A road trip is never just a road trip on film, as amply demonstrated since Two for the Road and Thelma & Louise changed our idea of long car rides forever. Still Alfonso Cuarón’s best directorial work to date, this movie is about two teenage boys embarking on a road trip to a secret (read: non-existent) beach in Mexico, together with an older married woman they’re trying hard to impress. What ensues on the journey is less sightseeing than self-discovery that begins with conflict, sex and startling revelations. Unlike most coming-of-age films, the theme is handled deftly and lightly by Cuarón, which resulted in a more deeply touching film. It also made a star of Gael García Bernal who went on to play the revolutionary Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries, another road tripping epic through South America.

  • AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, 1956
  • Y TU MAMá TAMBIéN, 2001
  • NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959
  • SAMSARA, 2011
  • THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, 1999
  • 2046, 2004
  • LOST IN TRANSLATION, 2003
  • CINEMA PARADISO, 1988

North By Northwest, 1959

Despite the movie’s title, travel is not its central theme but rather, a case of mistaken identity and espionage that takes its protagonist (played dashingly by Cary Grant) from New York City to Long Island, on a train to Chicago, and finally to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. The diverse landscapes of America is portrayed in the movie, whether or not Alfred Hitchcock had intended so — the crowded, high-rise buzz of Manhattan and big-city vibe of Chicago, the affluent spacious suburb of Long Island, the corn fields of Indiana, and the strange but stately Mount Rushmore. The adman Grant plays takes the journey of his life driving drunk on a cliff, getting framed for murder and tracked by the police, hopping on a train as a fugitive and then getting chased and almost killed by a crop-duster plane while running through cornfields. Like any good spy, he meets a femme fatale played by Eva Marie Saint who simultaneously aids and thwarts his plans. This witty, glamorous caper is better than most spy thrillers made thereafter and is one of Hitchcock’s top three, alongside Rear Window and Dial M for Murder.

  • AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, 1956
  • Y TU MAMá TAMBIéN, 2001
  • NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959
  • SAMSARA, 2011
  • THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, 1999
  • 2046, 2004
  • LOST IN TRANSLATION, 2003
  • CINEMA PARADISO, 1988

Samsara, 2011

An epic saga of its own kind, this movie made by Ron Fricke was shot entirely on 70mm film, over a span of 5 years in 25 countries. A Sanskrit word meaning the cycle of life, death and rebirth, Samsara shows the world’s natural wonders, cities, sacred grounds, disaster zones, and people — all in a kaleidoscope sequence of images, without a single spoken narrative. Not quite a documentary or a travelogue, some consider it a kind of wordless, visual meditation on the world we live in today. If there is one film you have to pick to travel virtually, it is this.

  • AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, 1956
  • Y TU MAMá TAMBIéN, 2001
  • NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959
  • SAMSARA, 2011
  • THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, 1999
  • 2046, 2004
  • LOST IN TRANSLATION, 2003
  • CINEMA PARADISO, 1988

The Talented Mr Ripley, 1999

Travel and romance, if Patricia Highsmith is to be believed, often lead to crime. Based on her novel in 1955, director Anthony Minghella shows protagonist Tom Ripley (played by Matt Damon) jumping at the chance to see the world on the dime of a wealthy man who asks him to help ‘retrieve’ his wayward son, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) from Italy back to New York where he belongs with family and responsibilities. And so the story of deception, fake identities, passion and murder unravels slowly in the lush cinematography that shows off Italy’s cultural cities and idyllic coastal towns, from Sicily to Rome, Venice and San Remo, where a boat ride culminates in tragedy that spins out of control. This sweeping vista of a movie is not the first of Highsmith’s novels to be translated into film, but is definitely the best next to Alfred Hitchcock’s riveting take on Strangers on a Train. It is as much a paean to the beauty of Italy as it is a tribute to the author.

  • AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, 1956
  • Y TU MAMá TAMBIéN, 2001
  • NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959
  • SAMSARA, 2011
  • THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, 1999
  • 2046, 2004
  • LOST IN TRANSLATION, 2003
  • CINEMA PARADISO, 1988

2046, 2004

Director Wong Kar Wai has long been a creative spokesperson of sorts for Hong Kong to the rest of the world. 2046 is the final chapter that links In the Mood for Love and Days of Being Wild. The journeys taken here are in the mind of sci-fi author Chow Mo-wan, who writes about a mysterious train that leaves for a place called 2046, a destination that everyone boards with the intent of recapturing the past. The stories-within-a-story are fleshed out by Wong’s long-time collaborator, Christopher Doyle’s dream-like cinematography. The only travelling done in this film is metaphorical and rooted in the main character’s obsession in resolving the past. But what a heady trip it is for those who believe that the most important journeys are not necessarily taken with a physical step.

  • AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, 1956
  • Y TU MAMá TAMBIéN, 2001
  • NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959
  • SAMSARA, 2011
  • THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, 1999
  • 2046, 2004
  • LOST IN TRANSLATION, 2003
  • CINEMA PARADISO, 1988

Lost In Translation, 2003

Tokyo is the backdrop for this story about marriage in modern, affluent America. A young wife and Yale graduate played by Scarlett Johansson meets Bill Murray’s movie star-past-his-prime in the hotel they’re staying, in a city entirely foreign and often bizarre to them. The young woman waits alone in the hotel while her celebrity photographer husband is busy on assignment; the aging star is idle while not shooting a commercial for a Japanese company. Their connection plays out as both feel isolated in both the foreign land and in their respective marriages. One is lost and questioning the compatibility in her relationship, while the other is trapped in a stultifying marriage where the only connection between the spouses seems to be purely domestic minutiae. Even though this movie was her sophomore effort as a director and screenwriter, Sofia Coppola aptly picked Tokyo as the perfect foil for the two protagonists’ journey. The city’s dizzying array of sight, sound, colours and entertainment were shot in a way that was confusing and sometimes oppressive, highlighting the inner worlds of the two characters. Thanks to this movie, the city’s Shibuya Crossing and Park Hyatt Tokyo have become iconic destinations for travellers worldwide.

  • AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, 1956
  • Y TU MAMá TAMBIéN, 2001
  • NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959
  • SAMSARA, 2011
  • THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, 1999
  • 2046, 2004
  • LOST IN TRANSLATION, 2003
  • CINEMA PARADISO, 1988

Cinema Paradiso, 1988

This beautiful classic about the magic of cinema is one that a film buff would not miss. Little Salvatore grew up in a small Sicilian village and befriends the town movie house projectionist, Alfredo who later encourages the young man to leave town and pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. 30 years later, Salvatore gets a phone call that brings him back to the village he hadn’t seen since he left for Rome as a young man. Through the story of a boy’s journey to fulfilling his dreams, this movie shows the art of traditional filmmaking and the evolution of cinema.