Whether seeking inspiration for your next journey or a brief escape while soaring high above the clouds, we’ve assembled a collection of films that evoke the spirit of adventure and the wonder of exploring new places. These movies use dynamic settings around the globe as backdrops to delve into universal human experiences. By transporting us through place and time, they remind us of the joys of discovery, connection, and the quest to find meaning. Next time you need a dose of wanderlust or want to be swept away, let these transportive tales excite your imagination until you embark on your next grand adventure.
the scent of green papaya – vietnam
A beautiful, quiet film set in Vietnam, director Tran Anh Hung’s The Scent of Green Papaya transports viewers to Saigon’s lush and vibrant world in the 1950s. The story follows the life of a young girl named Mui, who is hired as a servant in a wealthy household. Through her eyes, we experience the daily rhythms of life in this bustling city, from the markets to the elegant tea ceremonies.
As Mui grows up, she becomes increasingly attuned to the natural world around her, finding solace in the fragrant scent of the green papaya trees growing in her employer’s courtyard. Despite her challenges as a servant, Mui remains steadfast in her determination to find joy in all aspects of her life.
Although decades apart, my own experience of running through the grounds of my family home in Vietnam conjures the same feeling while watching The Scent of Green Papaya. But the universal story prevails, and The Scent of Green Papaya is a moving and thought-provoking meditation on the power of nature, the importance of finding beauty in everyday life, and the enduring strength of the human spirit.
In Bruges – Belgium
A dark comedy with uproarious performances from Brendan Gleeson and Colin Ferrell as two surly guns-for-hire sent to the storybook Belgian city of Bruges for a job. While waiting for further instructions, they explore the beautiful medieval town and encounter a colourful cast of characters.
With its clever dialogue, black humour, and charming cinematography of the quaint city, In Bruges offers a fresh, absurdist take on the crime genre against the incongruous backdrop of picturesque Bruges. The contrast makes for highly entertaining viewing. Director Martin McDonagh and stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson have a knack for finding moments of ridiculousness in settings where you'd least expect it. Their collaboration here brings the viewer into a bizarre world where matters of life, death, guilt, and redemption are explored. Building on their successful pairing in In Bruges, director Martin McDonagh and stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson came together again in their 2022 BAFTA Award-winning film The Banshees of Inisherin, set on a remote Irish island.
Fire of Love – Iceland
An awe-inspiring portrait of passion and scientific devotion, Sara Dosa’s documentary Fire of Love chronicles the lives and work of French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. Through spellbinding archival footage of the couple exploring active volcanoes paired with their personal writings, Dosa encapsulates their daring spirit, deep love for one another, and the dangerous attraction to understanding the inner workings of volcanoes up close. Set against volatile, otherworldly landscapes from Iceland to Japan in the 1970s through the 1990s, Fire of Love follows the Kraffts as they brave toxic fumes, flowing lava, and unpredictable eruptions to collect scientific data and film incredibly rare volcanic events. The couple’s stunning imagery offers a perspective of natural wonders rarely witnessed firsthand.
Celebrating two vivid lives entirely devoted to adventure and discovery, Fire of Love serves as a solemn reminder of the deadly risks sometimes required to reveal nature’s secrets. Fiery mountains and billowing ash plumes blaze through every vivid frame, at once beautiful and deadly. It is an ode to genuine passion and the human drive to understand the unknown.
Your Name – Japan
Your Name is a poetic window into two teenagers’ contrasting daily lives in rural Japan and bustling Tokyo. It is a heartwarming and visually stunning anime that explores themes of fate, love, and the power of connections, leaving the audience with optimism and hope.
In the fictional remote mountain town of Itomori, high schooler Mitsuha’s daily life reflects deeply rooted traditions and a close-knit community. The film’s stunning animation depicts her small town’s lush forests, flowing rivers, and Shinto shrines. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, high school boy Taki inhabits an entirely different world, living amid the sprawling metropolis. Shinkai captures the energy and overwhelming scale of the capital through scenes of Taki commuting by train, getting lost in immense crowds, and exploring the dazzling nightscape of skyscrapers and neon signs.
By allowing the two protagonists to literally inhabit one another’s realities, Shinkai uses the contrast between rural and urban lifestyles to reflect on fading traditions and accelerating change. But he also finds universal human connections as the teenagers bond over their shared experiences of teenage life in Japan despite their very different daily worlds.
Paris, je t'aime – France
Paris takes centre stage in the charming anthology film Paris, je t'aime. Through 18 short films by different directors, including Alfonso Cuarón and Gus Van Sant, we are transported on a cinematic journey across the city’s iconic neighbourhoods, each with its own unique quality and energy. The movie showcases tourist sights like the Sacré-Cœur and hidden gems, capturing the diversity of Parisian life.
The intimate stories unwrap the complexity of life and love in the city of lights. In “Quartier des Enfants Rouges”, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a lonely American who connects with a French cook in a bustling restaurant. My personal favourite is Alexander Payne’s heartwrenching short, starring Margo Martindale, who shines as an American tourist in a poignant tale of solo travel. Other tales reveal missed connections and romantic encounters ranging from sweet to tragic.
Parisian apartments, cafés, metro stations, parks, streets, and rooftops become backdrops where paths cross and bonds form. But the city is more than just a scenic backdrop. Paris takes on a life of its own through vivid scenes of daily life that reveal its personality. The films celebrate the city’s enduring romantic allure while also moving beyond the postcard image to depict the real humans that inhabit its spaces. As a framing device and a conduit for human connections, Paris emerges as the film's central character, anchoring these lyrical tales. ■