How to Tour Western Europe Without Leaving the Country (or Your TV)

June 10, 2011

by Maggie Kruger

My flatmate is off to Italy in the morning, and I am very jealous of him: he’s heading off to the Amalfi coast and I get to stay in our manky flat waiting for the exterminators to come and do something about the family of mice we’ve got living in the walls.

But I don’t need to be bitter.

Thanks to the magic of the movies me and the Mousekewitzes (yes, yes, I have named the vermin, what of it?) can have our own summer holiday in the sun, without going anywhere near an airport! NB – I’m going to be massively exclusive here and focus on France, Spain, Italy and Germany – if you want the full European experience, then watch the Eurovision Song Contest 😉

Allez les Bleus

First stop is France, land of le baguette, le stinky fromage and men in striped jumpers with onions draped around their neck.  I love the French, they’re so effortlessly cool: you tell me another nation that can eat that much garlic and still be so unbelievably sexy. The first movie to watch is the delightful Amelie– truly the movie equivalent of Prozac.

I defy anyone to watch this film and not be cheered up by it: a collection of eccentric Montmartre residents having their lives improved by offbeat loner Amelie Poulain (Audrey Tautou).

Nothing about this film is bad, and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like it. Altogether less saccharine but equally heartwarming is feature length animation Belleville Rendezvous (aka Les Tripelettes de Belleville).  It’s impossible to describe this movie: I know I’m not really selling it if I say it’s the story of a tenacious old lady trying to rescue her cyclist grandson from the hands of nefarious crooks, but that about sums it up… watch the trailer and trust me when I tell you it’s worth seeking out.

Totally sugarfree and quite frankly disturbing is 1980s classic Betty Blue.  Hot, steamy and by no means an easy watch, if your idea of ‘Crazy in Love’ is what Beyonce sang about, then you ain’t seen nothing yet. Two other French films that are shamefully obscure, but worth a watch if you can find them, are Ponette and MicMacs.

If Ponette doesn’t break your heart, then you don’t have one: a 5 year old girl sent away by her father, whilst trying to cope with the death of her mother.  Child actress Victoire Thivisol is just beautiful in this – as are the rest of the children in the cast – stupendous.  MicMacs is strange but lovely… I couldn’t even begin to tell you what this is about, but should you see it playing somewhere – Watch it!!

Viva Espana

Down to Spain and crack open the cervezas as you watch Pan’s Labyrinth.  Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece is set just after the Spanish Civil War and blurs the line between fantasy and reality.  There are a couple of moments in this movie that are terrifying, and this is largely down to the physical genius of Doug Jones (who also played Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies) – the man is just hypnotic  to watch.

By now you may be tiring of the subtitles a little, so the next movie isn’t strictly Spanish, but looks beautiful nonetheless.  Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Woody Allen’s love letter to the city, and is the movie that convinced me Scarlett Johansson could actually act (it’s worth noting at this point that I really REALLY hated Lost in Translation, but that’s another story).

Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz (who won an Oscar for her role here) are fantastic in it, and whilst some people saw it as a 2 hour commercial on behalf of the Spanish Tourist Board, it rocketed Barcelona to the top of my must-visit destination list. A quick paella break, then onwards.

Mambo Italiano

I can’t talk about Italian cinema without at least mentioning Dario Argento, for my splattertastic friends on the FF Crew, but I am a complete wuss when it comes to that much

Cinema Paradiso poster (1988)

Cinema Paradiso poster (1988)

gore (or at least that much gore that’s taking itself seriously – I have no issue with tongue in cheek gore a la The Evil Dead), so all I can really say is – ‘Dario Argento, he’s Italian and he makes scary gory movies’.

What I CAN talk about though are two of the most romantic films of all time. Il Postino is a truly stunning love story – exiled poet Pablo Neruda helps a local postman win the woman of his dreams – simple, but stunningly effective.

What is possibly more heartbreaking is knowing that lead actor, Massimo Troisi, postponed surgery to work on Il Postino, and suffered a fatal heart attack the day after filming wrapped.

Too sad.

And of course no cinematic trip to Italia would be complete without watching Cinema Paradiso – it’s the ultimate love letter to the movies.  A fatherless Sicilian boy befriends the projectionist at his local cinema, who teaches him not only about film, but also about life and love.

Believe me when I tell you this film is worth watching for the last 5 minutes alone: call me a softie but just reading a recap of it online brought tears to my eyes. But enough mawkish sentimentality!  Onto our final destination.



Max Schreck in Nosferatu (1922)

Max Schreck in Nosferatu (1922)

Deutschland Deutschland Über Alles

I loooooove German cinema.  I did a study on it at school when I was 18 and I can still bore on about it at length when the feeling takes me. I’m not going to do that now though – I’m just going to give you the most squeaky of whistlestop tours… Starting with Nosferatu.  This is an unauthorised adaptation of Dracula and stars the creepy  creepy Max Schreck as Count Orlok.

Some of the most iconic images of Expressionist cinema come for this movie…. I can feel a lecture startingso I’ll stop here.  Nosferatu: watch it, es ist ganz gut.

The next film worth a look is Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, if only because it’s beautiful, and Hollywood waded in and remade it as City of Angels, which IMO is one of the most dreadful films I’ve seen IN MY LIFE.  Seriously, it’s the biggest piece of rubbish committed to celluloid.

Wings of Desire on the other hand, is gorgeous: 2 angels roaming West Berlin towards the end of the Cold War, one of whom falls in love with a mortal.  There’s also a subplot featuring Peter Falk – what’s not to love about that?

Luck Dragon, Falcor, The Neverending Story (1984)

Luck Dragon, Falcor, The Neverending Story (1984)

The last film you need to see isn’t set in Germany, but it’s by brillingtons German director Wolfgang Petersen: The NeverEnding Story.  I loooooove this movie, nearly 30 years on and I still wish I had a Luck Dragon.

If you’ve never seen it, it’s right up there with Labyrinth, The Princess Bride and The Dark Crystal in the list of top fantasy films – dark, quite scary in places but ultimately heartwarming.   Highlights include the racing snail, a rock biter, and a gigantic turtle with a headcold.

(I want a Luck Dragon, and my birthday’s in December should you wish to start saving up!)

So with that I shall leave you – I’m going to feed the mice some Bratwurst and berate them for not being French.

Maggie Kruger fell asleep on her dad’s lap on her first cinema trip to watch Return of the Jedi in 1983, and has loved the movies ever since, even going so far as to study them at college, where she worked on a number of short films. She lives and works in London, UK, and will tell you that her favourite film is Dr Strangelove, although when pressed will also admit a certain weakness for 1980’s brat pack movies and most of Adam Sandler’s early work. Follow her on Twitter: @emmizzykay .

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