Stream Holidays

Stream Holidays: Eight Great Films About Trips to Spain

A bereaved father on a pilgrimage to Galicia, lost lovers reunite in Barcelona, a young woman is liberated in Almería... here's our film guide for the armchair traveller

In Stream Holidays, we recommend the best films about other people's trips as alternatives to going abroad at this time of global quarantine – all available to stream or rent from the comfort of your own home.

Few countries possess the inherent pull and allure of Spain. Is there, after all, another European country with so many desirable and iconic cities at its disposable? Not merely Barcelona and Madrid, but Seville and Valencia, San Sebastian and Granada… and the list doesn't end there.

Spain is eating late at night, drinking outside, dancing into the early hours. It's music and tradition and family. Time slows down in Spain, offering visitors the chance to experience life at a different pace. It's a country for every taste and every speed: hedonism is encouraged in the endless coastal resorts and on the island of Ibiza, but this is also a place to take a break from the norm, and perhaps even retire – a promise of a less hectic life.

In cinema, characters head to Spain in order to bask in the sun and walk the beaches, sure, but also to liberate themselves from the past. Immersion is easy – good times are guaranteed. Here are some filmic trips to Spain well worth taking…

 

The Passenger (1975)

Where to watch it: The Criterion Channel (US only)

In The Passenger, Jack Nicholson's resourceful TV journalist Locke decides to impersonate a dead man in order to escape his own problems but ends up inheriting a ton more. He travels extensively across Europe, to Germany, and England, though one memorable stretch of Michelangelo Antonioni's restless travelogue finds him in Barcelona, where he shacks up on that most famous – and touristic – of roads: Las Rambas. A whistle-stop tour of some of the city's best landmarks follows. Locke takes the cable car, with extensive views of the city's architectural delights, and visits the Parc de la Ciutadella, and various Gaudí landmarks. All the while he senses being watched; the walls closing in. Later, he heads to Almería, a respite from the chaos of the city – but never his problems.

 

Morvern Callar (2001)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

The suicide of Morvern Callar's boyfriend serves as a wake up call: a sign to go out there and live life to the full. Instead of using the money he left behind for a burial, Morvern uses it to book a flight to Almería for her and a friend. So it is at the halfway mark that Lynne Ramsey’s enigmatic film trades a grim and oppressive Scotland for sunny Spain. The two worlds couldn’t be more different. That enviable moment of stepping out of the airport is marvellously rendered – you can feel the rush of the heat, the joy of these girls as the sun hits their skin, like stepping through the door from Kansas into Oz. In Almería, they party, live hedonistically. Later, the mood intensifies during a running of the bulls, Ramsey employing a yellow hue that overwhelms the picture – and us. Here, Spain is painted as a better way of life, an idyll to be attained. Morvern leaves, but we know she'll be back.

 

Sexy Beast (2000)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Brits love Spain, but their affection has come at a cost: a reputation for mindless hedonism now precedes every arrival. It's a notion exemplified by Jonathan Glazer's sweary debut and its leading man: Ray Winstone's retired gangster, Gary, who has taken refuge in a posh villa in Agua Amarge. For him, Spain is a way of life – long days spent lounging by the pool, linen shirts, cicadas chirping in the background. But the past is always trying to catch up to men like Gary. The trip in question does not belong to him, but his former associate, Don (Ben Kingsley), who arrives from England like a storm in a teacup, armed with an infinite supply of F-bombs and C-words. Talk about trouble in paradise. The ensuing conflict is as tense as they come… but what a view!

 

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

All the ingredients are assembled for the most memorable holiday in Woody Allen's sexy, Spain-set romantic drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Prissy Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and her beautiful best friend Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) arrive in Barcelona for a summer of soaking up the culture. Their plans are derailed, however, by the arrival of an artist (Javier Bardem) and his girlfriend (a career-best Penelope Cruz). Of course, the girls are drawn into unconventional romance, nights spent wining and dining, languishing in idyllic villas. But, like the trip itself, none of it can last. Allen does not avoid the Spanish cliches – but the atmosphere here is never anything but sultry and intoxicating.

The Limits of Control (2009)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

It isn’t clear where the nameless hitman at the heart of Jim Jarmuch’s The Limits of Control is arriving from, nor is it clear what his goal is for much of the movie. It matters little, as Jarmusch – true to form – gives us yet another ambling, existentially minded road trip filled with quirky diversions and poetic musings. This one is narratively thin but epically shot, starring Isaac de Bankolés and featuring encounters with the likes of Tilda Swinton and John Hurt. De Bankolés travels from Madrid to Seville, encountering oddballs, observing local traditions, all the while indulging his habit of ordering two single espressos whenever he goes. Pointless, but why not? In Spain, you’re free to do as you please.

 

The Way (2013)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Sentimental, slow-paced, but charming: The Way sees Martin Sheen’s bereaved eye doctor setting out on a trip to complete the famed pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. He’s ill-prepared, but guided by the spirit of his son. Along the way he stops off in quaint villages and fends off an eager Dutchman. It’s an inherently sad story – but Sheen drinks wine, eats ice cream, and makes new friends, James Taylor deployed on the soundtrack. It’s not an insult to call this a “nice” film: the slow pace comforts rather than annoys, while the Spanish countryside is made to look magnificent and inviting. And if The Way could have used fewer broadly drawn, wacky characters (James Nesbitt's manic Irishman, for example), its community spirit remains oddly infectious.

 

End of the Century (2019)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

In Barcelona, two strangers – Ocho (Juan Barberini) and Javi (Ramon Pujol) – meet and find a connection. Drinking with a view, sun setting on the great city, a palpable haze setting in, they get to know one each other, experiencing that rare sensation of having only just met but feeling like there’s already history. But what if there is history? What if they met before? This narratively ambitious and sensitive drama finds its story caught between two worlds – the worlds of “What if?” and the world of what really happened. As the men reflect, wander the beautiful streets, and visit a museum, End of the Century gives us the past, the present, and an imagined alternative had these two stayed together. Barcelona is the perfect stage.

 

The Whistlers (2019)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

The setting is La Gomera, an island in the Canaries – a region of lush valleys, stunning cliffs, and endless beaches. Yet Cristi, the police officer at the heart of Corneliu Porumboiu's playful crime thriller The Whistlers, doesn't have the time to appreciate the beauty of his surroundings; he's too focused on the mission at hand, which involves learning the silbo “whistling language” in a bid to infiltrate a local gang. Luckily, the film gives us plenty of time to drink in the luscious scenery on his behalf. As the story goes back and forth in time, Porumboiu contrasts the endless gray of Cristi's home city of Bucharest with the sprawling vistas of La Gomera. Yet even sumptuous Singapore, making a late stage appearance, can't compete with Spain here.

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