Category Archives: Doing Europe

A vacation in Europe isn’t just a matter of place; it’s also a matter of mind-set: no one wants to visit the public housing projects of London or the industrial parks of Vienna. What you want is the old Europe—the gargoyle-encrusted architecture, the Tudor villages, the misty side streets of Paris, the vineyards and churches and castles that have been there, gathering mold and legends, forever. Luckily, movies want the same thing more often than not.

The Illusionist (2006)

Interesting fable about a magician (Edward Norton) and his entanglements with the aristocracy, set in turn-of-the-century Vienna but actually shot—fabulously, by Dick Pope—in the old neighborhoods of Prague. The result does both cities justice.

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Russian Ark (2002)

Saint Petersburg (Russia), Hermitage Museum. H...
Saint Petersburg (Russia), Hermitage Museum. Hermitage Theatre. Watercolour from 1824. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You don’t need to go to The Hermitage, in St. Petersburg, if you see this remarkable film by Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov, which takes a tour of the world’s largest museum (and, in the czar’s day, the world’s largest private residence) in one roving, restless digital-video shot. Never mind that the film intersects with a century of Russian history along the way; the instruction here is in the location. Once you’ve experienced this gargantuan remnant of the imperial age, you’ll know why the Russian Revolution happened.

A Little Romance (1979)

The Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy.
The Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

L’amour between two precocious young teens—an American girl (a fresh-faced Diane Lane) and a French boy (one-shot-wonder Thelonious Bernard)—on the streets of Paris, and their flirtation takes us on quite the tour: Parisian markets, the Champs Elysées, the Tuilleries, and more. In an effort to pledge their eternal love, they run away to Venice to kiss under the Bridge of Sighs in a gondola at sunset, and they treat us to Italy in the bargain. Laurence Olivier accompanies them, trotting out a French accent that sounds as unassailable as his German accent in Marathon Man.

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

Thanks to Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Spain never had the cinematic New Wave it deserved, but it does have this sweeping, poetic, elliptical work from Victor Erice, about two peasant girls, the vast and sun-reflective Castilian plains, a village showing of 1931’s Frankenstein, and a dark-eyed drifter. Essential viewing.

Equestrian statue of Generalissimo Franco in t...
Equestrian statue of Generalissimo Franco in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (City Hall Plaza) of Santander. It was retired in late 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Conformist (1970)

One of the great European films, made when director Bernardo Bertolucci was only 29, this startlingly beautiful character study and essay on fascist collaborationism and political cowardice is by no means just an evocative Euro-travel primer; it’s essential viewing for anyone who cares about movies. Even so, the film’s passage from World War II–era Rome to Paris to the snowy Alpine forestland between the two cities is as powerful as a dream.

Roman Holiday (1953)

Cropped screenshot of Audrey Hepburn and Grego...
Cropped screenshot of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck from the trailer for the film Roman Holiday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Audrey Hepburn won an Oscar her first time out with this expert postwar romance (she’s a bored princess; Gregory Peck’s a cynical American reporter), shot entirely in Rome and utilizing virtually every recognizable tourist spot in the city, from the Spanish Steps to the Colosseum.

Under the Roofs of Paris (1930)

René Clair was one the filmmakers for whom the technological burdens of early sound were not a crippling impediment but an inspiration. This love triangle confection is a fascinating litany of ingenious narrative gimmicks and formal flourishes, as well as a swoony, romantic evocation of the city in the period between the world wars.

Paris Exposition: Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tow...
Paris Exposition: Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, 1900 (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)