Every film is a journey. For some films, that journey takes its characters to a strange land with different customs, a foreign language, and possibly fresh experiences. In Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater, Bill Baker (Matt Damon) is an oil rig roughneck from Oklahoma who travels to Marseille to help his daughter Alison (Abigail Breslin), who is imprisoned for a murder she insists she did not commit. When his American bravado gets him nowhere with local officials, he moves in with a French woman, Virginie (Camille Cottin) and young daughter, Maya (Lilou Siauvaud), experiencing Marseille from a local's perspective. For McCarthy, Damon’s performance captured both Baker's struggle to make sense of this new world and his growing awareness of what it means to be an American in the first place. “Once Matt was cast, I felt like I clearly understood Bill Baker and the profound journey for all its complexities and ambiguities, that he was about to take,” exclaims McCarthy.
To celebrate this story of encountering new worlds with open eyes, we are showcasing five other films whose main characters discover themselves in the process of being in foreign lands.
Limbo | Syria, Afghanistan, Ghana, and Nigeria to Scotland
In Limbo, Ben Sharrock transplants four asylum seekers from different countries onto a cold, barren island in the outer Hebrides. Divorced from their families and home countries, these hopeful refugees try to make sense of this strange middle where helpful officials offer them classes on how best to act while visiting a disco. Not sugarcoating the refugee experience, Sharrock still finds the humor in their experience. “I’ve never seen the refugee crisis told in this way, so heart-warming and funny and accessible to everyone,” exclaims Amir El-Masry, who plays Omar in the film. While these four try to navigate the island's bleak, cold weather, the daily monotony, and the natives’ impenetrable brogue, they are also learning from each other on how to adapt. “It’s a reflection on what happens when individuals from disparate places get together and need to define, for themselves above all, what “home” means and what it means to leave it,” exclaims Time Magazine.
Lost in Translation | United States to Japan
While the story of Lost in Translation is not autobiographical for its writer/director Sofia Coppola, the experience it portrays was very familiar. Flying to Tokyo from Los Angeles at least once a year for her fashion company Milkfed, Coppola learned what it felt like to wake up in a strange country. “Jet lag makes you contemplate life in a different way,” Coppola explains. “You’re far removed from all the distractions of your normal life.” In the film, a young newlywed, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who has been abandoned by her husband for work, and an aging movie star, Bob Harris (Bill Murray), who is in Tokyo to shoot a Whiskey commercial, meet at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Their mutual cultural bewilderment seems to perfectly reflect the emotional confusion each feels about their lives. “It’s about misunderstandings between people and places,” Coppola says. “It’s about things being disconnected and looking for moments of connection.” As these two sleepy strangers connect in the hallways of a foreign hotel in the middle of the night, they also come to life. Lost in Translation is “a paean to dislocated people discovering how alive they are when they can barely keep their eyes open,” exclaims The New York Times.
The Constant Gardener | England to Kenya
In his adaptation of John le Carré’s The Constant Gardener, Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles highlights the dizzying sense of cultural dislocation at the center of this thriller. When British diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), is assigned to Kenya, he is accompanied by his journalist and activist wife, Tessa (Rachel Weisz in an Academy Award®-winning performance). Embracing her new home and its people, Tessa is soon drawn into a corporate conspiracy when she asks too many questions about how international pharmaceutical tests are adversely affecting the local Africans. When her body is mysteriously found in the middle of nowhere, Justin embarks on a journey to discover who her killers are and where his real allegiances lie. For screenwriter Jeffrey Wright, Meirelles’s perspective as a Brazilian director gave the story even more depth and resonance. While Meirelles understood “the Third World,” Justin’s “old-school-boy world of British diplomacy was as…foreign to him as was Kenya.”
In Bruges | England to Belgium
In his comedy In Bruges, writer/director Martin McDonagh has two Irish hitmen, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), sent to the ancient Belgium city of Bruges for a cooling-down period after they screw up an assignment. While there, Gleeson embraces the rich history and culture of this famous gothic town, while Farrell disdains the entire experience. " I love Dublin," the less-than-subtle Ray says. "If I’d grown up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t, so it doesn’t." McDonagh came upon these two contrary personalities by watching his reactions to Bruges. After being enchanted one day and bored the next, McDonagh imagined these “two characters in my head: the culture-loving geek and the drunken slut." The film's other character is Bruges. "Paris, Venice, Prague are all beautiful, but they didn’t have both the strange quirkiness and unknown quantity of Bruges,” acknowledges McDonagh. For The Los Angeles Times, Bruges plays a special role as “straight man to Farrell’s outrageous buffoon, silently rebuking his endless monologues.”
The American | United States to Italy
In Anton Corbijn’s thriller The American, George Clooney plays a custom gunmaker who caters to high-level assassins whose quiet life in the small Italian village is turned upside down when he begins to suspect he might be one of his clients' next target. Adapted from Martin Booth’s acclaimed novel, Corbijn’s existential thriller locates the mysterious American artist in Italy’s scenic Abruzzo region. “I had a clear idea of how the landscape should look, and I wanted to use towns and villages as a back lot," notes Corbijn. Indeed the area informed the very nature of the character himself. Clooney might be a foreigner, but his reclusive and secretive behavior reflects the nature of the local population. According to producer Anne Carey, “These are a people who pride themselves on having a history, a moral strength, and a sense of secrecy and privacy. All of that informed the character of the locations.”
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