EDITORIAL: Romantic movie escapes of the world
In a loose sequel to my last editorial on "romantic escapes" charting and outlining a date movie for every state in the United States of America, I offer you an international follow-up. The two-hour vacation of a good romance or a good date movie shouldn't stop at the borders of America. We all know there are some excellent romantic films that take place beyond the USA. On the list below, I tried to stir up a good date movie from as many world countries as I could. Some are American films shot in foreign countries or at least have a setting that supposed to be another country. Some are straight-up foreign films from those respective nations, and, finally, others were just shot in those countries as a backdrop. Nevertheless, I offer you a second list of "romantic escapes." This time around, at over 70 represented countries, there are just too many films to find trailers for. Call me lazy, but you, YouTube, and IMDB are on your own. Enjoy!
Canada-- Not veering too far from home, someone looking for some northern romantic elements don't need to look any further than the Montreal-set The Whole Nine Yards and the Toronto-setScott Pilgrim Vs. the World. One's got a dentist falling for a hitman's ex-wife and fighting off mobsters and the other has a video game dork falling for the Amazon.com delivery girl and fighting off her ex-boyfriends.
Mexico-- For a lot of couples, food is a trigger and an aphrodisiac. That's the case for the cuisine in Like Water for Chocolate from south of the border. If that's not good enough or if the guy's need a little fun and spectacle, go with any of the El Mariachitrilogy from Robert Rodriguez, including Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
SOUTH AMERICA, CENTRAL AMERICA, AND THE CARIBBEAN
Argentina-- Former first lady Eva Peron (Madonna) beckons "Don't cry for me, Argentina" in the classic Evita. It's one musical that you may actually tolerate.
Bolivia-- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid go on the lamb in Bolivia and bring their charm with them. George Roy Hill's classic makes for an excellent entry-level western for those female dates who are a little skittish about the genre.
Brazil-- Picking an awkward procreating bird from the animated Rio would be too easy, so I'll go old-school with Now, Voyager, the South American cruise romance with Bette Davis and Paul Henreid from 1942. If that's too old and you need a little sizzle, check out the sexual escapades of a young Mickey Rourke in Wild Orchid, also set in Brazil.
Colombia-- Donnie Brasco and Four Weddings and Funeral director Mike Newell heads to post Great War Colombia for epic forbidden romance starring Javier Bardem in Love in the Time of Cholera.
Cuba-- Even though America can't visit and film in Cuba, that doesn't mean we can't use the Havana heat as a backdrop. Get your exercise keeping up with Angelina Jolie seducing Antonio Banderas in Original Sin from 2001.
Jamaica-- Like many movies on this list, we get to see Americans visiting foreign countries not looking for love, but finding it anyway. That's the result of Angela Bassett's character in How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Of course, if that's not enough there's the swashbuckling romance of the entire Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy.
Paraguay-- While it's hard to find much romance in sacrificial Jesuit priests, The Mission, taking place in Paraguay has one of the most beautiful movie scores in history from Ennio Morricone that is romance in itself.
Peru-- I'm a sucker for a good Humphrey Bogart movie. When he teamed with and later married the younger Lauren Bacall, their movie combinations made for great intrigue and romance together. Though most of Dark Passage takes place in the States, the ending payoff on an ocean front resort in Peru is worth the payoff.
Venezuela-- Modeled after Venezuela's Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world, I'm going to cheat and include the widower's dreamy goal of Paradise Falls from Disney/Pixar's Up as a Venezuelan/South American entry. It beats having to fall back on 2000's Dragonfly and watch Kevin Costner try to seance with his departed wife.
Austria-- There are two excellent choices for Austria. The first is the classic The Sound of Music with romance brewing in the singing hills. The second is the far more modern, but excellent romantic comedy/drama Before Sunrise, where American tourist Ethan Hawke spends the day and night romancing a Julie Delpy's French tourist in Vienna.
Belarus-- While it's hard to call a war movie a date movie, Defiance, from director Ed Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond, Legends of the Fall) and starring Daniel Craig, has its moments of bleak romance mixed with hiding from the Germans in the woods.
Bosnia and Herzegovina--Just this past year, in her directorial debut, Angelina Jolie delivered In the Land of Blood and Honey, a drama of a forbidden affair between a Serbian solder and one of his captive prisoners.
Denmark-- Denmark's great setting for love came from Shakespeare's masterpiece of Hamlet. While the play has had many film adaptations, the Laurence Olivier Best Picture-winning effort from 1948 and Kenneth Branagh's full-text epic from 1996 are the standouts.
France-- Within France, you have Paris, the City of Light, and arguably the most romantic city on Earth. It has been visited in many movie moments from Casablanca to Something's Gotta Give and many in-between. Instead of just a flashback or a pit-stop, the best date movies that take place entirely in Paris are 2011's excellent Midnight in Paris from Woody Allen, the Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy sequel Before Sunset, and Audrey Tautou's enchanting Amelie. Honorable French mention goes to the sleepy village in Chocolat.
Germany-- In 2008, Kate Winslet won a much-deserved Academy Award for her lead turn in the torrid affairs with a younger man in The Reader, set in Berlin from director Stephen Daldry.
Greece-- Sorry, but My Big Fat Greek Wedding doesn't count. For Greece, ladies, look to the gods with Troy or the rippling P90X abs of 300. For more charm and kick, go with Mamma Mia!
Hungary-- Ralph Fiennes is a pro at foreign cinema and get the most of his romantic attention for The English Patient (see "Africa" later on this list), but he performed an admirable triple role in 1999's Sunshine, following three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family through the 20th century.
Iceland-- The Girl in the Cafe is a TV movie from Britain, but I'll include it on this list. Written by Richard Curtis of Love Actually fame and directed by David Yates of the Harry Potter franchise, Bill Nighy falls for a local Reykjavik girl when attending the G8 Summit.
Ireland-- The green hills and fiery redheads of the Emerald Isle turned John Wayne's head in The Quiet Man, and you also can't go wrong with the Irish ties in P.S., I Love You from just a few years ago.
Italy--Second to Paris in romance, Italy brings many of its own unique foreign charms. The list of romantic escapes here are endless, but the best ones go to Under the Tuscan Sun, Roman Holiday, Cinema Paradiso, and Il Postino.
Malta-- Known best as Lois Lane, Margot Kidder played a mystery writer who travels to the country of Malta for research in 1993's Trenchcoat and falls Robert Hays' American mystery man.
Monaco-- The jewel for the tiny nation of Monaco is their dashing city of Monte Carlo. Selena Gomez's appropriately-titled film from last year doesn't make this list, but a pair of Alfred Hitchcock gems set in Monte Carlo deserve mention. Cary Grant and Grace Kelly slink through Hitchcock's fun To Catch a Thief. Fifteen years earlier, Hitchcock made his first stop there with 1940's Best Picture winner Rebecca, starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. For romance, though, go with To Catch a Thief.
Montenegro--James Bond films are known for going around the globe for their exotic locales and exotic women. Montenegro was the casino bearing the title for Casino Royale where Daniel Craig slowly falls for Eva Green while learning on the job.
Netherlands-- Before winning the Oscar in 2011, Colin Firth seduced as Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer with Scarlett Johansson as his muse in 2003's Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Norway-- In many countries, war films bring epic romance to go along with their epic scope. That was the case with the WWII and Norway-set The Day Will Dawn with Ralph Richardson and Deborah Kerr from 1942.
Portugal-- I mentioned the James Bond factor earlier and it appears again here in Spain's diminutive neighbor. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, James Bond, here played by George Lazenby (in his only appearance in the role) meets and saves a woman, Tracy di Vicenzo (Diane Rigg), on a Portugal beach from committing suicide and later marries her. Bond fans know how that later turned out.
Romania-- Unofficially, Romania is the home nation to the fictional Transylvania region from Bram Stoker's Dracula. While he's a ladykiller in more ways than one, he was at his seductive best when played by Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppolla's Dracula from 1992.
Russia-- Mother Russia is always thought as the "bad guy," but is still a country that possesses plenty of passion. The list there starts and ends with David Lean's 1965 epic Doctor Zhivago, set during the Russian Revolution and Civil War in the early 20th Century. According to the AFI, it ranks as #7 on their list of passions and #39 out of their overall 100. Honorable mentions go to Warren Beatty in Reds and Jude Law and Rachel Weisz's hookup in the WWII Battle of Stalingrad in Enemy at the Gates.
Spain-- Of course, the people of Spain are romantic. They speak Spanish. Kidding aside, check out Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona with Scarlett Johannson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz to get more than a few sips of Spanish passion. Honorable mentions go to Almodovar's Talk to Her and early Penelope Cruz in Abre Los Ojos.
Sweden-- It's cold in Scandinavia, but Noomi Repace and Rooney Mara and a little twisted heat in both adaptations of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. For more thrills, check out the sequels The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. American sequels are coming soon!
United Kingdom-- Last for this Europe chapter, but certainly not least is England. Thanks to Jane Austen, plenty of period-piece love stories have been turned to films, from Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility to an autobiographical Becoming Jane and the modern homage that is Bridget Jones's Diary. Britain also boasts great romance in Love Actually, Atonement, and even the epic Braveheart from their Scottish region.
Afghanistan-- Honey, you mean watching a shirtless Sylvester Stallone shoot Russians on behalf of the Taliban for Rambo III in 1988 Afghanistan isn't romantic?! Are you sure?
Cambodia-- Not a romance and not the prequel to Mark Wahlberg's Four Brothers, but Two Brothers, starring Guy Pearce, is an excellent date movie/family film a story of two sibling tigers separated in captivity and forced to fight each other years later.
China--The most populous country in the world has a rich history of cinema that most us Americans never get the chance to appreciate. We mostly get to digest just the martial arts films, though Hero andCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stand out for romantic elements. For two more escapes, I recommend Kar Wai Wong's Chungking Express about two love-struck cops and Kaige Chen's Farewell My Concubine following old opera.
Hong Kong-- As an off-shoot to China, Hong Kong has it's own rich history of film. William Holden clashes with the Communist revolution in Love is a Many-Splendored Thing for 1955. For something more recent and more scandalous in content, check out Ang Lee's NC-17 espionage drama Lust, Caution from 2007.
India-- While India has the second largest film industry in the world, most of their pictures never make to our side of the world and domestic filmmakers haven't taken many glimpses into the great nation of India. Start off easy with Dev Patel's quest to find Frieda Pinto in the 2009 Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire.
Indonesia-- While the movie, Eat Pray Love, based on the hit book, takes place in many world locales, the scenes in Indonesia lead our lead divorced Julia Roberts character to a new place romantically for her life.
Iran-- While watching a marriage be tested by strong dissent isn't super romantic, the front-runner for this year's Best Foreign Language Film, A Separation, is worthy of attention. The story follows a married couple torn between moving to a different country for a better life for their child or staying and caring for a parent suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Iraq--A movie about the Persian Gulf war might not be the best date movie, but even your female companion will be moved by the Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan team in Courage Under Fire. Meg's assertive helicopter pilot is a "You go, girl" kind of character and you will also be impressed by the crucial role a young Matt Damon plays. For me, I get to keep my streak of including a Denzel Washington movie in every editorial list I right. Score!
Israel-- Want to see a dedicated husband? Take the biblical Joseph, played wonderfully by Oscar Isaac in The Nativity Story from 2006. He's married to a woman carrying a child that is not his and is on the run from the authorities, yet is willing to risk his life to see that is wife and future son are safe at all costs. He's such a nice guy! They should write a book about him and his family. I bet his kid turns out to being something!
Japan-- Much like China, the history of Japan is new to us in the Western Hemisphere. I, myself, am not well-versed in their rich cinema industry either. I have to stick with American films Memoirs of a Geisha and The Last Samurai for date choices. I know I'm missing a whole slew of native choices.
Kazakhstan-- Who's a better ladies man than Kazakhstan's own Borat, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan? Nothing says romance like lusting over Pamela Anderson Lee or a male slingshot bathing suit!
Korea-- For M*A*S*H, the TV show gets more attention than the original Robert Altman movie, but it's flirty shenanigans in Korea are the closest we're going to get from that despotic nation for romance.
Lebanon-- Spy Game, starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, takes place prominently in America and Germany, but it's Brad Pitt's characters time spent in Beirut during the 80's that leads him to give up all of the spy rules for the love of a good woman. War-torn streets must be a trigger for some guys.
Pakistan-- Those who know the story of American journalist Daniel Pearl know that you're not going to get a happy ending from A Mighty Heart, but Angelina Jolie's driven portrayal of his wife searching for him shows a different level of commitment and love.
Philippines-- In the second movie on the list from director Kar Wai Wong, 1990's Days of Being Wild follows a handsome young man in search for his mother that takes him to the Philippines.
Singapore--The third and final Kar Wai Wong film in this list is his 2000 masterpiece of unconsummated desire In the Mood for Love. This great film madeTIME magazine's Top 10 list of that year and Kar earned the label of "the world's most romantic filmmaker" after its success. Swept in great music, colors, and costumes, Tony Leung Chui-wai (who won the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival for this role) and Maggie Cheung play apartment neighbors who develop a connection when they learn that their respective spouses are having an affair with each other. This is truly one those excellent "diamond in the rough" examples of foreign film.
Thailand-- I don't know if we can count the cults of The Beach or the prostitutes of Phuket fromThe Hangover Part II as romance for Thailand. Instead, we'll go with the royalty from the King of Siam love story from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I with Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr and it's modern update Anna and the King with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat. That goes down a little easier than cross-gender strippers. Right, Stu/Ed Helms?
Turkey-- As we've mentioned earlier, many James Bond films pick great exotic locals for James Bond as his many female suitors. Turkey gets nice looks from a pair of 007 films, first with From Russia With Love starring Sean Connery and later with The World is Not Enough with Pierce Brosnan.
United Arab Emirates-- I don't watch these kinds of shows or movies, but I read that Sex and the City 2 had glitzy and ditzy chicks on camels in Abu Dhabi. I'll take it, just to include it on the list.
Uzbekistan-- The 18th century Djuma Mosque in Khiva, Uzbekistan was the stunt double for Constantinople, Turkey in the filming of 1992's Orlando with Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton and Billy Zane, so well give them credit instead of Turkey itself.
Vietnam-- In this southeast country know far more for the conflict that took place there than anything else, it was tough to find a romantic movie out of all of the interpretations of the Vietnam War. The closest I found was Oliver Stone's heart-breaker Heaven and Earth with Tommy Lee Jones. For sexual escapades in Vietnam before the war, look for French director Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Lover with Jane March.
Algeria-- Married couple John Malkovich and Debra Winger seek a North African adventure in Tangier to respark their marriage, but only get tangled in dangerous local dealings in 1990's The Sheltering Sky from Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci. It also has a dynamite score from Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Egypt-- The most romantic figure in Egyptian history is the enchanting Cleopatra, portrayed famously and expensively by Elizabeth Taylor. If you don't have 3+ hours to sit through her making eyes and ruining empires, slow things down with 2009's Cairo Time starring Patricia Clarkson as the wife of a UN peacekeeper who finds unexpected, but unspoken love with a local guide (Alexander Siddig) dispatched to watch over her.
Kenya-- For a generation, the most intimate and romantic portrait of the African continent was Snows of Kilimanjaro with Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward. It was surpassed in 1985 by the Sydney Pollack Best Picture winner Out of Africa starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Never before, and few times since, has Africa looked so scenic and beautiful.
Libya--Speaking of Out of Africa, its closest competitor for epic romance in Africa was the 1997 Best Picture winner The English Patient, with a torrid affair between Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas that could melt sand. Sure, Seinfeld made fun of it, but it's as excellent a movie as you'll find. As a nod to the country, the Libyan "Cave of Swimmers" is a prominent side-story in the film.
Madagascar-- Can a giraffe and a hippopotamus really mate?! Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa begs the question. Eww...
Morocco-- The best of the best of international romance is found on the North African Atlantic coast in Casablanca. Hollywood's best romance of all-time takes place in the capital city at Rick's Cafe Americain, run by Humphrey Bogart's beleaguered expatriate, whose life is turned upside down when an old flame (Ingrid Bergmann) arrives in town on the arm of another man (Paul Henreid).
Nigeria-- I'm pretty sure having your date watch Bruce Willis dispatch with local terrorists while rescuing peacekeepers in Tears of the Sun might not be the best choice, but Italian goddess Monica Bellucci is sure nice to look at.
Rwanda-- Rwanda has a dark history, so it's hard to recommend the incredible Hotel Rwanda with Don Cheadle as a date movie, but give Sigourney Weaver playing with apes in Gorillas in the Mist a try, despite its our intense subject of animal cruelty and poaching as well.
Sierra Leone-- The dangers of the diamond trade took center stage in Ed Zwick's Blood Diamond starring the Oscar-nominated Leonardo DiCaprio. While it's not the most romantic subject in the world (even with Jennifer Connolly's presence), it is moving and escapist entertainment.
South Africa-- For some reason (a big one with the long strife of Apartheid), the only movies they seem to set in South Africa tend to be civil pieces on their racial injustices. It's hard to find much romance, but Invictus, a sport movie with a political backing, can make for great couch time in February.
Sudan--While this classic story of cowardice and redemption in battle starts in England, the action in both the 1939 and 2002 versions of The Four Feathers takes place in Sudan of the 1880s, where the British are clashing with the local Mahdists over control of the country. If I were Heath Ledger, I'd go to Africa to fight for Kate Hudson's honor too.
Swaziland-- Wah Wah is a unique story of Swaziland's upcoming independence from Great Britain in the 1960s, as seen through the teenage eyes of Nicholas Hoult. Directed by actor Richard Grant and based on his immigrant childhood, it was the first ever film made in that country. Gabriel Byrne, Emily Watson, Julie Walters, and Miranda Richardson were kind enough to co-star.
Tanzania-- I know that asking for a John Wayne adventure like Hatari! to work as a "romantic escape" is a stretch, but if it worked for The Quiet Man in Ireland, then it can work here. Elsa Martinelli plays the requisite female head-turner for the Duke.
Uganda--Lastly, in one of the most satisfying and unlikely romantic comedies of movie history, the perfect The African Queen brings together screen legends Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart for bickering and flirtation on the rivers of Uganda. One of the all-time great movies!
AUSTRALIA, OCEANIA, AND ANTARCTICA
Australia-- A few years ago, Australia's own Baz Luhrman made his own national Gone with the Wind in the form of Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. Epic in scope and length and high on adventure and emotion, it's an excellent romantic showcase of the Land Down Under.
New Zealand and Tazmania-- I know there's no such place on the planet called "Middle Earth," but New Zealand and Tazmania stepped in as the backdrop to the epic The Lord of the Rings series with its camaraderie and a dash of romance.
Oceania-- While the island was uninhabited and uncharted in the South Pacific, Tom Hanks' longing for Helen Hunt in Castaway doesn't go unnoticed. Much like "Middle Earth," there's no such place at Bali Ha'i, but 1958's film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific sure makes it look like a romantic place to go.
Antarctica-- Romance and the signing penguins of Happy Feet makes the final spot. Wouldn't you rather see that than the real things at work in March of the Penguins? I thought so...