Monday, April 21, 2014

Cinema Tourism: my Top 5

As readers of my various writings may know, I have moved around a bit. I enjoy travelling, and I've actually lived in Spain, Germany and Belgium. I've always been a little bit in love with the whole idea of "abroad", which is why my novels and some of my short stories are set in other countries.

One of the other great loves of my life is going to the cinema. Note, I do not just say "films". I love films too, but there is a difference between a DVD and a pizza at home and the whole experience of going out to the cinema. I started to think about this the other day because I took my daughter to see the new Hammer film, The Quiet Ones, and during the trailers she was excitedly asking whether we could see various other upcoming films. Some of them were films I fancy seeing myself, others not, but the fact of the matter is, I like going to the cinema so much that I will happily go and see films that aren't on my wish list.

I do draw the line somewhere; when we lived in Germany I told the children I would never, ever take them to see Felix - Ein Hase auf Weltreise, because I couldn't face the thought of two hours of sickly-sweet bunny-rabbit on world tour (luckily they shared this opinion otherwise there might have been trouble). But mostly I am very happy to go and watch anything. I've been to see films abroad a number of times, often without being able to understand any of the dialogue at all, just for the experience.

Anyway, musing on this subject, I decided to try to come up with my Top 5 foreign film experiences. Being contrary, I came up with six and couldn't decide which one to leave out. Here they are, in more or less chronological order.

Humanoides del Abismo (seen in Spain, 1980) 
According to the IMDb, this film was rated 18 in the UK, and given that I was 16 that summer, I probably shouldn't have been watching it at all. I was on holiday with my family and my best friend of the time in Sa Riera, so although I can't remember where the cinema was, it was probably Girona. The friend and I went to see the film; my parents didn't. Perhaps they thought we were watching a charming romcom instead. Humanoids del Abismo ("Humanoids of the Deep") was about disgusting-looking monsters with naked brains for heads, who came up from the sea to murder men and (to put it very euphemistically indeed) ravish women. After watching this delightful film, I was nervous about swimming for the whole of the rest of the fortnight. It was worth it though; if nothing else, it was memorable.

Footloose (seen in the Cevennes, France, 1984)
I'm not really a fan of dance movies but this was an interesting experience because we went to see the film in a little village cinema. We were staying near Lasalle but I am not sure whether it was there. The cinema had a run-down, rather unofficial feel to it: half the seats were broken, so you had to choose ones which weren't before getting settled, and the "screen" was a bunch of white sheets tacked to the wall at one end of the room, which also had a bicycle leaning up against it. The really exciting thing about this cinema visit was that there were scorpions crawling up and down the walls, so you never did quite know whether you were going to get to the end of the movie without being stung by more than a sudden passion for Kevin Bacon.

Beta (seen in India, 1992)
Possibly my favourite cinema trip of all time. I went overlanding from London to Kathmandu in 1992 and whilst we were in India I went to see the romantic musical Beta at the famous Raj Mandir cinema in Jaipur (see the pic at the top of this post - after dark it is lit up green). I went in a small mixed group, and as the queue for the ladies-only box office (wonder if they still have that?) was much shorter than the other ones, I volunteered to buy the tickets. Even being in the ladies' queue was a bit like being carried along by a tidal wave. The lady behind me, a very tall stout person, was leaning on me with all her weight whilst I was trying to buy the tickets, and the minute I had picked them up from the counter I was cast aside like driftwood. We bought popcorn, which was awful (that has surely improved since 1992). The screen where Beta was being shown was probably one of the biggest I have ever been in, and packed out, because part of the film was shot in Jaipur itself. Whenever any recognisable landmark appeared, there was wild whistling and cheering. When the heroine said anything pert there was pandemonium. People were standing on the seats. Fabulous. It was one of the best things I did on that entire four month trip.

Bambi (seen in Germany in 2004? thereabouts anyway)
I went to the cinema many times in Germany (we lived there for seven years, after all) but the most memorable experiences were not the visits to the Galleria in Euskirchen, which was our nearest "proper" one. Bad M√ľnstereifel, where we lived, used to have a cinema but it closed down round about the time we moved there in 2001. However, every so often there would be Kinderkino (kids' cinema) in the Eifel Club meeting rooms in the Johannistor, one of the four mediaeval defensive towers that are dotted along the town walls. Generally these would be fairly old films - we once saw Bambi, made in 1942! However, the children were young enough to be happy with whatever they saw. The room where the films were shown was full of chairs and tables (somewhat unorthodox cinema seating) and the walls were lined with stuffed animals including a wildcat. The luxurious thing about watching films there was that you could order drinks - Apfelschorle (a kind of fizzy apple juice) or even Schnapps...

Above: the Johannistor

Sint (seen in Leuven, Flanders, 2010)
I've blogged about this seasonal slasher movie several times before, so I won't labour the point. I was very keen to see it on the big screen but nobody would agree to go with me (and my husband had to stay home with the kids, who were too young to see it) and for some reason which I forget, I couldn't have the car the day I wanted to go. So I got the bus into Leuven, which took ages (and even longer on the way back because I had a long wait for the next one going home). Totally worth it. Even better,  it was near the end of the film's run, so the screen was fairly empty. I spread myself out, ate my own weight in pick'n'mix, and enjoyed.

Thirteen Assassins (seen in Brussels in 2011)
Whilst we lived in Flanders, my Flemish friend Tom took me to the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival on two occasions. In 2010 we went to see Les aventures extraordinaires d'Ad√®le Blanc-Sec, which was fabulous because Luc Besson actually appeared on stage and talked for a bit, although I can't remember a word he said because of the intoxicating effect of fangirliness. In 2011 Tom suggested gory samurai film Thirteen Assassins. Generally I'm not a great fan of samurai films but I was quite happy to give this one a go. The most memorable thing about the evening was probably the combination of film and menu. Before we went to the festival, Tom and his brother and I went to a Flemish restaurant in Brussels where they talked me into trying the dish paling in't groen, which is fried eel in green sauce. In the interests of fairness I have to say that it tasted good, but it looked distinctly alarming, and before we even got to the screening I was feeling a little bit queasy about what I had just eaten. The film opened with a slow and very gory act of hara-kiri. As we were sitting in the middle of a row there was no escape. I am mainly proud of myself for not barfing.

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