Friday, June 28, 2013

Americans Abroad: An Online Film Festival

WOW!  It's been a while since I've blogged.  Try March...many months ago.  I'm sorry that I was away for so long.  With full-time work and graduate school, I got lost in all of those obligations.  With summer upon us and plenty of time for me as I am not working as much, I will have more time to blog and I am very much looking forward to that.

Here's the first blog post of the series entitled "Online Film Festivals Curated by Me."

 Americans' experiences abroad and its discontent.  I've always wanted to write on this very subject for there's a bountiful list of films that deal with this topic, especially films that I've viewed recently.  Do you find it highly ironic that many of the films that have made this list are recent Woody Allen films?!

I became interested in this topic when I first saw Julie Delpy's film 2 Days in Paris.  Out of his element, Julie's boyfriend Jack (played by Adam Goldberg), who is from the U.S., was tested throughout his entire trip abroad.  Though I loved the film, it made me really uncomfortable (yet intrigued) watching Jack feel uncomfortable in unfamiliar settings.  From a visit with Julie's parents to an outing at Julie's father's art gallery opening, Jack was put on display regularly given his naivety and unwillingness to learn new things and appreciate diversity.  His masculinity was tested as well, given that there's a lingering stereotype about both American and European men, one being more feminine than the other.

After watching this film, I became interested in other films where other Americans travel to unfamiliar territory.  Interestingly enough, it was very easy to find other films on this topic, with many of the films made in the late 2000s to early 2010s.

Here's a list of suggested films to view that are related to the theme of Americans Abroad:

Vicky Cristina Barcelona, dir. Woody Allen, 2008, United States

A romantic comedy/drama written and directed by Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona centers on two women, Vicky (played by Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (played by Scarlett Johansson) during their trip to Spain.  Both women become smitten with Juan Antonio (played by Javier Bardem), an artist whose still madly in love with his ex-wife Maria Elena (played by Bardem's real-life wife Penelope Cruz; they weren't married at the time of production for the film).  This film is perfect for the list because we get to see two very different perspectives on traveling abroad through two very different experiences.  Vicky, whose a graduate student studying Catalan identity and an engaged woman, approaches her experience in Spain completely different from that of Cristina, a single woman whose open and excited to explore new things and meet new people.  Vicky's practicality and conservative attitude don't shield her from what she ends up experiencing.  Which character do you think would have the most enriching, life-changing, eye-opening experience:  Vicky or Cristina?

Midnight in Paris, dir. Woody Allen, 2011, Spain/United States

The only fantasy film on this list, Midnight in Paris stars Owen Wilson as Gil Pender, an unfulfilled, unhappy Hollywood screenwriter whose preparing to marry his fiancee, Inez (played by Rachel McAdams) and finish writing his first novel.  The film takes us to the beginning of Gil's (dreaded) trip to France with Inez and her parents.  Once he stumbles upon a 1920s Peugeot Type 176 car and some of his favorite writers from that era, Gil's life is transformed (or so we think...again, I'm not trying to give the movie away).

To Rome with Love, dir. Woody Allen, 2012, United States/Italy/Spain

To Rome with Love was filled with multiple storylines but the two most relevant to this list of films is the one dealing with Hayley (played by Alison Pill) and John (played by Alec Baldwin).  Though I do not want to give away the film, I want to recommend paying close attention to John's story arc, especially given that it quickly becomes about Jack (played by Jesse Eisenberg).  Director Woody Allen makes an appearance in the film as Hayley's father, Jerry.  A refreshing role for Allen, this character possesses the many nuisances and quirks that we've come to love about Allen in real life.  However, it is laced with uncomfortability in the unfamiliar.

2 Days in Paris, dir. Julie Delpy, 2007, France/Germany

There is so much to love about 2 Days in Paris!  Where shall I begin?  First off, this film is on several lists of mine including the "constantly remind my friends to watch this film and call me immediately after viewing it and then recommend it to others" list.  The relevant fact about this film that is applicable to this particular list is the evolution or deconstruction of Jack, a character played by actor Adam Goldberg.  Jack, Marion's boyfriend, is traveling abroad for the first time.  He feels out of sorts.  Jack is put in many situations where both his "manhood" and patience are tested.  I do not want to give the film away (given that I am recommending it on this list), but this non-traditional romantic comedy (it has an unpredictable ending) is intriguing in that it puts a male character, a figure who tends to be the shining hero with no flaws in most films, in some very unsettling situations, some that I think might have been unfair to the actor playing the role (there's some gossip that Adam Goldberg not only didn't appreciate his character in 2 Days in Paris, but when asked to reunite with Delpy for the remake, he declined).  

The Darjeeling Limited, dir. Wes Anderson, 2007, United States

This is a film that I haven't watched yet, so we'll be watching it together!  From what I've gathered in the synoposis for the film available on it's IMDB page, The Darjeeling Limited should definitely be on this list.  Here's what IMDB offered as a brief synopsis for the film:  "One year after their father's funeral, three brothers travel across India by train in an attempt to bond with one another."  The film stars Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman.  From the title (Darjeeling, a town in the Indian state of West Bengal, is famous for its tea industry...let's hope that I don't hear too many references to tea and Indians - insert face palm), poster, and cast list alone, I think this movie might get "high ratings" on the American Exceptionist scale.  But, honestly, I want to be proven wrong with this film.  Adapting one of my favorite lines from the film Warm Bodies:  "don't be stupid, don't be stupid, don't be stupid!"  I don't like to presume anything, but these days with cultural products, I can set my expectation's bar pretty low.

19 Kids and Counting:  Duggars Do Asia

This last selection happens to be a reality television series.  Airing on TLC, 19 Kids and Counting has moved its 10th season to Asia.  The family was invited abroad for a handful of interviews and television appearances.  I've had an opportunity to watch one episode from this current season and I must say that it sums up pretty much everything that I have to say about Americans Abroad. 

Here's a couple of books (both fiction and nonfiction selections) on Americans Abroad that can be read alongside with viewing these films:
  1. Tsukioka, Dorian.  How to Travel Abroad Even If You Are a Stupid American:  10 Tips to Keep You From Disgracing Yourself or Your Country, 2013 (published by Amazon, this book is available digitally on Kindle)
  2. Vines, Carolyn E.  Black and Abroad: Traveling Beyond the Limitations of Identity.  2010
Visit Goodreads for their list of popular books on traveling abroad.

I hope that watching these films and reading these books together with friends and family will begin some interesting discussions.  Please feel free to share in the comments section on your experiences watching any of these films or readings any of these books.  I don't want to (re)present Americans as being ignorant, stupid, or selfish when traveling abroad, however, this is a theme that continues to come up in literature and film.  I definitely understand the "uncomfortability" that can come along with being amongst the "unfamiliar."  However, one can enjoy learning about the world around us and the beauty that is available to us when we step outside of our "familiar."

So, for those who are looking to travel abroad, remember, don't let your American Exceptionalism show, for we are guests in other people's homelands.  Be prepared to learn a lot.  Take on the scenery like you're from the area (i.e., do not rent limos or hire taxi services when you know that people in the area may not be able to afford it), try new foods, visit the non-touristy parts of the region.

Here's a couple of questions that I'd like to pose to everyone.  Please do not address these questions until after watching most (or all) of the films as it would be difficult to do so otherwise.  Are any of these characters your typical protagonist?  Do they experience significant change and if so, what is it? If there is not significant change, why do you think that is?

Next up:  Important and Influential Women Filmmakers - writers, directors, producers....oh my!!!