The World Awaits: Fuel Your Wanderlust With Recent Focus Films
New destinations to dream about this summer
With the world opening up again for travel, people are allowing themselves to dream of distant lands and foreign cultures. But where to go? Some recent Focus films have inspired us to imagine exciting new trips to take. Whether it be a tasting trip of Hanoi street food, a retreat to a remote Scottish isle, or a meander down a mysterious street in Marseille, now is the time to let the movies excite your wanderlust. Here are a few possible films and destinations to get you started.
Marseille | Stillwater
In Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater, Bill Baker (Matt Damon), an oil-rig roughneck from Oklahoma travels to Marseille to help his daughter, who has been imprisoned for a murder she insists she’s innocent of. As an American living and working in this legendary city, Baker gets to see all sides of Marseille, from its dark, mysterious past to its promising future.
Used as a shadowy backdrop in works such as Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Christo and Jean Genet's The Thief's Journal, Marseille is a city steeped in danger. In more recent works, Marseille provides a terrifying stage for clashes between violent gangs in drug wars, a harsh reality hinted at in Stillwater. In his hard-boiled crime novel Total Chaos, Jean-Claude Izzo exclaimed, “Marseille isn’t a city for tourists….It’s a place where you have to take sides, be passionately for or against. Only then can you see what there is to see.”
For the people who live there, however, Marseille also provides a vision of a new Europe, one in which the people of France, the Middle East, and Africa come together to forge a rich, diverse community. Labeled by Passport Magazine as “a city built on diversity,” Marseille embraces its rich multicultural traditions and neighborhoods. Founded by Greek sailors in 600 BC, Marseilles has long been a home for people from all over the Mediterranean. Local cafes serving Tunisian leblebi soup, Allocco fish with plantains from the Ivory Coast, North African mahjouba crepes, Neapolitan pizza, Spanish Paella, as well as the local bouillabaisse, testify to the city's diversity. Its newest architectural landmark, the Mucem (the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations), celebrates its historic diversity as well as making a literal bridge to it with a walkway that leads to the 12th century Fort Saint-Jean. As the local politician Samia Ghalia exclaimed, “Maghrebin, French, white, brown, Chinese – we don’t give a damn…We’re Marseillais first and then the rest.”
Scotland | Limbo and Mary Queen of Scots
If you want to get off the beaten track, try the Uist Islands. North and South Uists — the two largest islands of the chain in the Outer Hebrides — serve as the backdrop for Ben Sharrock’s comedy Limbo. For his movie about four asylum seekers from around the world who were relocated to a remote Scottish island, Sharrock needed a landscape that “could make you feel like you’re on the edge of the Earth. Still beautiful, but isolated and lost.” With few tourist amenities, the Uists islands can transport you to another world. In North Uists, you can visit Barpa Langass, a chambered burial cairn believed to be over 5,000 years old, or spy on the seal populations on the island’s west coast. South Uist features pristine white-sand beaches on the western side and mountains to the east.
If you want to travel back in time, visit a few of the locations from Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots. Imagine yourself as Mary leading her Scottish army at Glen Coe, one of Scotland’s most breathtaking valleys. Saoirse Ronan, who played the title character, recalls, “Mary is so connected to the land and is so in touch with the world she is a part of, so to be able to feed off of that in Scotland was amazing.” Or travel to North Berwick to visit East Lothian’s Seacliff Beach to look out over the North Sea as Mary might have. A stone's throw away from there is Hailes Castle, where Mary stayed with the Earl of Bothwell on the way to their wedding.
Edgar Wright’s London | The Sparks Brothers, Last Night in Soho, Shaun of the Dead
To capture the world of Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright shot all about London, from Crouch End to East Finchley to New Cross. If you want to pay homage to the movie’s locations, Buzzfeed provides an itinerary of locales. With Last Night in Soho (in theaters on October 22), Wright stayed closer to home. In this time-traveling thriller with Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Thomasin McKenzie, Wright explores the neighborhood he has lived and worked in for years. The film’s story came to him “literally pounding the pavement late at night walking home, starting to think about what these walls had seen.” And as a neighborhood, Soho has seen a lot.
Behind the façade of upscale advertising firms and lowbrow tourist traps that exist today, one can still find traces of Soho’s scandalous past. From the 18th century to the 1980s, Soho was London’s destination for sex, be it the area’s early brothels or later peep shows and adult cinemas. As the sex industry waned in the mid-80s, gay bars began popping up along the area’s narrow streets, with many legendary pubs like Admiral Duncan and Comptons still going strong. Today, you can follow a walking tour of Queer Soho to recapture 130 years of LGBTQ+ history.
As for entertainment, Soho has swung with every type of music. From Dixieland jazz in the 30s at the Hippodrome to swing in the 40s at Café de Paris to bebop in the 60s at Ronnie Smith’s to rock bands, such as The Yardbirds, Rod Stewart, and the Rolling Stone, playing at the Marquee, Soho was alive with the sound of music. Wright’s documentary The Spark Brothers recalls how Ron and Russell Mael, the Southern California brothers who created the band Sparks, got their start in London. In 1972, the new band headlined at Soho’s Marquee Club. Two years later, they hit it big with “This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us.” At the time, Melody Maker described the brilliant duo as “From the UCLA in Los Angeles, now resident in London, and on the verge of causing a sensation.” When bands weren’t playing at the area’s various venues or hanging out in Carnaby Street, they were recording albums around the corner at Trident studios. Today, a blue plaque at 17 St Anne’s Court remembers David Bowie’s many albums recorded there, a remembrance of all these walls have heard as well.
Hanoi | Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
When Anthony Bourdain died in 2018, President Obama tweeted out a photo of a meal he shared with the intrepid chef and adventurer in Vietnam with the caption “‘Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer. That’s how I’ll remember Tony. He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown.” In Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, filmmaker Morgan Neville maps out Bourdain’s remarkable life, including the places, people, and culinary delights that inspired him.
Foremost on the list was Vietnam. Bourdain remembers, "I fell in love with Vietnam on one trip, it was only on a return trip, that I realized that I was a goner." What inspired him was how "all senses are engaged” there. In Hanoi, you can sample bún chả, the local specialty of rice vermicelli, fresh herbs, and roast pork that Bourdain shared with President Obama. Bourdain is so revered in Hanoi that many locals will gladly take you (for a small fee) on food tours based on Bourdain’s visits. Or you can seek out your culinary destination, finding some sidewalk café with plastic stools, knee-high tables, and unforgettable offerings of Cha Ca (turmeric fish with fresh dill), Mien Xao Luon (glass noodles with deep-fried eel), or Bánh Cuốn (pillowy crepes filled with pork and mushrooms).