For the love of a locale

2023-12-30
/
/ New Delhi
/ Film
For the love of a locale

Few directors get as synonymous with their film locations as auteur Wong Kar Wai is with Hong Kong

Though most of the films are still shot on sets and even when they go out to shoot, most filmmakers are happy to go to different locations as demanded by the flow of the story. However, some filmmakers have become strongly connected with one destination or location that serves as their muse. India Outbound explores some of these filmmakers and their destinations.
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While the number of films shot in exotic locales are exponential, productions usually seek to explore new opportunities everytime when it comes to choosing a locale. However, be it Andrei Tarkovsky’s dreamy sequences of Soviet landscapes or Wong Kar Wai’s exploration of the youth through the colourful, transitioning Hong-Kong, some filmmakers have become closely synonymous with their locales. These certain filmmakers have concentrated on particular locations that they felt a stronger connection to and through further exploration of a single city, they could uncover more about its everyday life and daily existence. India Outbound looks at few such directors and their work.

Wong Kar Wai: Hong Kong

Wong Kar Wai

Wong Kar Wai

Few directors get as synonymous with their film locations as auteur Wong Kar Wai is with Hong Kong. Whether it be exploring the restless nature of youth in Chungking Express (1995), mirrored in the constant flux of Hong Kong’s nightlife, or the city’s transitioning oeuvre in In the Mood for Love (2000), Fallen Angels (1995) or 2046 (2004), and many other such creations, Wai has spun Hong Kong into a character of its own through his timeless films.

Wai’s directorial debut As Tears Go By (1988), a gangster drama, explores the lives of Wah and Fly through the neondrenched, crowded streets of Mong Kok, a residential district in the city.

Hong Kong, with its colourful, maze-like structure and sombre atmosphere, mirrors the lack of orientation of the characters in their lives, who have both lost their ways somewhat.

The sounds and sights of Hong Kong localities are all essentially characters in their own rights as the sprawling labyrinth in Chungking Express

The sounds and sights of the Central-Mid-Levels escalator in Lan Kwai Fong, the Graham Street food market and the Chungking Mansions are all essentially characters in their own rights as the sprawling labyrinth in Chungking Express, one of the defining movies of 1990s Hong Kong cinema. The film mirrors the dynamism of youth with the bustling diversity of Chungking Mansions with all its food shops and independent stalls run by vendors from all over the globe. Ever since the release of the movie, Chungking Mansions has become a landmark for film buffs visiting Hong Kong.

“The main characters of Chungking Express are not Faye Wong or Takeshi Kaneshiro, but the city itself, the night and day of Hong Kong. Chungking Express and Fallen Angels together are the bright and dark of Hong Kong. The camera is very close to the actors, but they seem far away. The purpose of the cameras in both the films is that they are just like civilian cameras. They are always watching people’s behaviour. In fact, they are the main characters in the film,” Wai had said.

Andrei Tarkovsky: Russia

Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky

Russia is charmingly introduced to us by Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky, perhaps the most famous Russian filmmaker. Scenes of minimal activity in and around painting-like Russian landscapes had become his signature motifs. Although he made only seven films in his 20-year long glorious career, Tarkovsky is known as one of the most inspiring filmmakers. His popularity and later shift to the West attracted international limelight to both him as a filmmaker and Russia equally. Amidst his soul-searching themes are long takes of dreamlike, poetic, frequently sci-fi Soviet frames.

Busy chasing butterflies and in awe of shining spiderwebs, Tarkovsky’s first feature film Ivan’s Childhood (1962), invoked war memories juxtaposed alongside visual scenery through Ivan’s dreamy eyes. It was shot for the most part near Kanev at the Dnieper River, now in Ukraine. With his very first film itself, Tarkovsky debuted his brand of visual poetry that continues to be a treasure for global filmmakers.

Scenes of minimal activity in and around painting-like Russian landscapes had become Tarkovsky’s signature motifs

In his film, The Mirror (1975) Tarkovsky built a montage of childhood memories, dreams and memories of war unfolding through the eyes of a dying poet of key moments. Tarkovsky’s narration of the journey between childhood and adulthood translated through dreamlike imagery, enthralled audiences, filmmakers and critics alike, who continue to study the auteur’s work.

In his final production in Russia, Tarkovsky created a protagonist, Stalker, who earns money by leading illegal tours in Tallinn, capital of Estonia. A place called the Dead Zone portrayed in the film, which granted visitors their innermost desires as much a state of mind as a place, only sensed and not seen, was beautifully filmed through the Russian landscapes.

Abbas Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami: Iran

Known for single-handedly putting Iran on the map of international cinema, Abbas Kiarostami’s filmmaking style was shaped by a variety of Persian arts, especially poetry, says Harvard Film Archive.

Iran, particularly Tehran, became synonymous with Kiarostami’s films for the rest of the world. In 1997, his film Taste of Cherry won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, heightening his popularity and bringing Iran under the global cinematic spotlight, especially intriguing the West. Tourism, too, opened up as a by-product of Kiarostami’s lens. Marked by an unforced intimacy, by their belief that the most interesting struggle in life is for any human being to live on their own terms, Kiarostami’s movies are closely blending facts with fiction, poignantly constructed through his communicative backgrounds.

Abbas Kiarostami’s filmmaking style was shaped by a variety of Persian arts, especially poetry, whereas Woody Allen’s canvas has been the everyday life in New York

Tourism, too, opened up as a by-product of Kiarostami’s lens

Tourism, too, opened up as a by-product of Kiarostami’s lens

Classical Persian poetry is quoted directly in the films Where Is the Friend’s Home? and The Wind Will Carry Us, to emphasise the intimate relationship and artistic link between art and everyday life in Iran. With a style notable for the use of long shots, in 2003, he directed Five, a poetic feature that contained no dialogue or characterisation whatsoever, but simply the narration through visuals. Instantly noted for his unconventional style, Kiarostami pocketed dozens of international awards and served as a jury member at numerous prestigious film festivals, also promoting his film destinations in Iran.

Jean-Luc Godard: Paris

Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Luc Godard

From the Luxembourg Gardens to Saint-Michel and the Sorbonne, the Franco Swiss auteur and pioneer of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard is strongly associated with his frames of Paris, his ideal narrative plot. Paris, as it is, is a popular destination. However, Godard grabbed filmgoers’ attention with his satirical sketches, adverts and quotations that painted the changing frames of France with debates

Paris is a recurring frame in almost every Godard film

and discontents of the 1960s. Godard’s debut feature, A Bout de Souffle (Breathless, 1960), is a prime example of numerous French New Wave films.

In his most acclaimed films, including Vivre sa vie (1962), Contempt (1963), Pierrot le Fou (1965), Masculin Féminin (1966) or Weekend (1967), Paris is a recurring frame.

Calanque de la Treille on the island of Porquerolles in Pierrot le Fou becomes a reflective point for the character as actor Anna Karina pronounces her famous ritornello, “What can I do? I don’t know what to do.”

Certain filmmakers have concentrated on particular locations that they felt a stronger connection to and through further exploration of a single city, they could uncover more about its everyday life and daily existence

Likewise, Malaparte Villa in Capri, gained mainstream popularity after the success of Contempt. Through French cinematography, Godard engages a viewer with his ideas of life, love, ethics and identity, all of which are reinforced by twentieth-century Parisian sights, ideals and lifestyle.

Woody Allen: New York

Woody Allen

Woody Allen

Allen reflects character development in his films through a myriad of locations

For American film director Woody Allen, Manhattan had almost become his playground. Annie Hall, which won the Academy Award for the best picture, popularised locations including the many shades of Manhattan, such as East River, 36 East 68th Street, and Wall Street Tennis club.

Actor Sam Waterston is seen giving Dianne Wiest and Carrie Fisher a tour of some of his favourite New York City structures in Hannah and Her Sisters, including the beautiful mock-Tudor village, iconic Langham, St Regis Sheraton Hotel and Elaine’s Restaurant in Manhattan.

The adorable Pomander Walk’s old English charm has won many admirers and are frequently featured in his works. The city’s landmarks are a commonplace in his films and his works even created new Manhattan landmarks, like the bench overlooking the Queensboro Bridge. Along with the variety of characters and storyline, Allen reflects character development in his films through a myriad of locations.

Yash Chopra: Switzerland

Yash Chopra

Yash Chopra

Switzerland Tourism hosts a guided tour on noted Indian filmmaker Yash Chopra, honouring the legacy of his works that showcased the beauty of the country and brought it to almost every Indian home. Chopra’s love for Switzerland began with Faasle in 1985.

From there on, in films like Chandni (1989), Darr (1993), Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) and others, Switzerland can be found in almost all of his movies. Lake Alpenrausch was in fact rechristened by the Swiss government as Lake Chopra in his honour.

In films like Chandni (1989), Darr (1993), Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) and others, Switzerland can be found in almost all of Yash Chopra movies

Considered not just Chopra’s best but also the longest running movie of all times, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge was shot around beautiful chalet village Saanen, the resort towns of Interlaken and Gstaad. The psychological thriller Darr narrates the story of a stalker, Rahul, obsessively following a young woman Kiran. It follows Kiran and her fiancé Sunil fleeing to Switzerland, with the later half of the movie shot in around the charming Swiss hills, Jungfrau Trains and Lucerne city. Jungfrau Railways in fact had inaugurated a train named after Chopra. Parts of his film Mohabbatein (2000) was shot in Lake Thun and Lake Amsoldingen in the Bernese

Oberland, while Chandni depicted the beautiful Bern. Chopra has time and again upheld the rolling Swiss hills in his movies.

“The legend, Yash Chopra, has presented the beauty of Switzerland and especially the Jungfrau Region to Indians across the world for generations, through his beautiful, soulful cinema.

Honouring the legacy of his works, Switzerland Tourism hosts a guided tour on noted Indian filmmaker Yash Chopra

Indians, who come to Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe year on year, have always spoken to us about how the romantic films of Yash Chopra have pushed them to visit the Jungfrau Region and Interlaken and make memories for a lifetime,” Remo Kaser, Director of Sales Jungfrau Railways, said earlier this year on at the launch of Netflix docu-series, The Romantics, a celebration of Chopra’s impact on Indians over the past 50 years.

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