Seven Movies to Explore the World While Staying Indoors

Seven Movies to Explore the World While Staying Indoors

Michael O’Connell, Editorial Editor

Challenging as it has been to resist gathering with friends in the past few weeks, social distancing protocol has given everyone the occasion to enjoy the movies, television, and music they otherwise didn’t have time for. The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered a genuine sense of a global community, with the collective understanding that only together can we defeat this virus.  In that spirit, here’s a list of films from each of the seven continents to enjoy while you’re stuck at home.

Asia: Chungking Express. Directed by Wong Kar-wai

Enjoy the film that apparently caused Quentin Tarantino to cry tears of joy. Master filmmaker Wong Kar-wai is your guide through 1990’s Hong Kong in this lovesick slice of life movie. Chungking Express’s stunning food stall, back alley, Hong Kong escalator visuals, and reserved sympathetic characters will leave a lasting impression on viewers. Wong expertly splices together two love stories in his curious and emotional street movie.

Africa: Timbuktu. Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako

Sissako’s 2014 dramatic exploration of Islamic extremism in West Africa is a strikingly beautiful glimpse into a painfully misunderstood and often overlooked part of the world. Hailed in the New York Times as one of the best films of the 21st Century, Timbuktu chronicles the changes experienced in the Malian city of the same name. There is haunting friction between the beautiful cinematography and the oppressive rule of regional jihadists. Viewers experience the trials of a respected cattle herder navigating through the unimaginable challenges that have overtaken his existence. The film is captivating from beginning to end, leaving audiences with the special feeling of having discovered a future classic.

North America: Paris, Texas. Directed by Wim Wenders

Paris, Texas is an amazing road movie that tells the turbulent tale of an American family. Vistas of Texas, California and the roads that connect them develop an evocative tale of tragedy and hope, as a father and young son learn to be a family again. The 1984 movie is timeless, and chock-full of little details—like a ‘58 Ford Ranchero, a fuzzy pink sweater, and the mustache of Harry Dean Stanton—never to be forgotten. Ry Cooder’s score accompanies a withdrawn, albeit colorful film that masterfully displays themes of familial reconciliation and sacrifice.

South America: Ixcanul. Directed by Jayro Bustamante

Ixcanul is a Guatemalan and the first to be produced in the Kaqchikel language.  Bustamante’s debut film saw impressive success across Europe, and it’s easy to see why. Set in a village at the foothill of a volcano, the movie portrays the convergence of religion and mysticism, womanhood and motherhood, and labor with romance. The film is an amazing testament to diversity–and the challenges diversity can create. With the beautiful coffee fields of Guatemala as a backdrop, the coming of age story focuses on Maria as she copes with the pressures of societal expectations, the forces of young romance, and the realities of life in a linguistically isolated, working village. Ixcanul is a stirring, one-of-a-kind film.

Europe: Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others). Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

The Lives of Others is a captivating espionage drama set in 1980’s East Berlin, that follows a playwright’s effort to expose the horrors of the Eastern Bloc. It is also the story of a domestic government spy who wrestles with his own involvement in the state’s affairs. The film does a brilliant job matching a stressful glum story with institutional grey and gloomy visuals. What may sound like the wrong kind of movie to watch during an equally stressful and gloomy time, it is actually a testament to human determination and resilience, even against the odds.

Australia: The Proposition. Directed by John Hillcoat

The Proposition is a high octane gun-slinging outback-western, but one that can offer more than horses and shootouts. Set in 1880’s Australia, the movie follows the violent angry feud between police forces and the Burns’ gang. The Burns brothers have a complicated relationship with the town they have terrorized. The middle brother Charlie is given an ultimatum: in nine days go find and kill your escaped elder brother, or your innocent younger brother is hanged. Charlie’s journey explores issues of morals and sacrifice, and the story highlights issues of race and class in colonial Australia, too. The Proposition can be enjoyed for many respects, either as a classic orange-hued pistol-dueling western or as an entertaining assessment of morals and Australian history.

Antarctica: Antarctica: A Year on Ice. Directed by Anthony Powell.

For something more lighthearted, there is the fascinating documentary Antarctica: A Year on Ice.  Viewers are introduced to the workers (like an airplane pilot, cook, and mechanic) who maintain a scientific community at the outer limits of human and mechanical viability. The documentary features breathtaking long-form time-lapse photography that encapsulates the scale, beauty, and remoteness of the continent. There’s no shortage of penguins and seals, too. The documentary reveals the secrets of one of the Earth’s final frontiers and depicts the parts of life viewers might be surprised to find in Antarctica.