I have always been drawn to movies which take us on a journey and show us both how big the world is, and by comparison, how capable we can be (if only we get out of our own way). I'm not sure if my view of life helped me decide on which movies to watch or if those movies helped me decide on what kind of life to have.
Either way, I'm here in Egypt as an expatriate, or an "ex-pat". I took a journey outside of my country and culture to live in another country. I'm living my own adventure movie in a very real way. I still like to watch movies which explore the lives of others who have stepped out of their comfort zone by flying away and staying abroad. Here are some of my favorite movies which speak the ex-pat language:
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Who: British retirees
Where: Rajasthan, India
Haram Alert: Slight nudity, talk of compromising situations and homosexuality
This week I discovered this movie with its stellar cast. I thought I might have to wait to see it until I went back to American this summer . I started asking my mom to look for it at Target. Imagine my surprise when I found an actual DVD of it at the Virgin Megastore in Mall of Arabia. Who knew that Egypt had any real DVDs?! Sure, I had to convince my husband to release it from his hands. He kept telling me that it was too expensive but I hoped it was worth 150 LE.
I liked the movie. I want to watch again the next chance I get in order to catch all the details I missed the first time. India reminds me a lot of Egypt with the historical sights, the sensory overload, the many economic levels, the family bonds and the tuk-tuks. I especially like the compare and contrast between different guests of the hotel and how they cope...or don't.
Best Quote: "Everything will be all right in the end. If it's not all right then it's not the end."
Eat, Pray, Love
Who: Julia Roberts as an American divorcee
Where: Italy, India and Indonesia
Haram Alert: Bed hopping and some slight nudity
It's a very popular movie. Sometimes people avoid what every else likes because they want to be different. Give it up! Just watch the movie and enjoy the trip.
Liz Gilbert doesn't really stay in any one culture to become a true ex-pat of any one country yet she stays too long to be a tourist. Her interactions with locals are interesting. The real relationship, of course, is how she finds herself.
I absolutely ADORE the Eddie Vedder song from the movie.
Best Quote: "In the end, I've come to believe in something I call, 'The Physics of the Quest.' A force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you're brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher adn if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you."
Who: British women of a quaint era
Where: Portofino, Italy
Haram Alert: The last time I saw this was before Islam so I can't rely on that memory.
This is more of a vacation of discovery than a life change voyage but it serves the same purpose. Women leave London so they can get away from it all in Italy. They learn that you can't escape yourself and the truth. That's actually a big part of being an ex-pat; you can leave it all behind but your issues still come with you.
The scenery is to die for.
Best Quote: "If you wish for something hard enough, it happens."
A Good Year
Who: Russell Crowe as a British banker
Where: Provence, France
Haram Alert: There is a lot of drinking but not much debauchery---at least not on my censored version from Saudi TV.
I've watched this movie twice. It's hard to sit through the evil beginning with all the big money dealings. When an inherited vineyard becomes the sudden focus then it's a very breath of fresh air. The chateau tames the monster man into a real gentleman by helping him fall in love again with the place where he used to be a boy. I liked the slow build and the moments of resistance. It is more contrived than most (especially the romance) but it is a likable story with such a charming man you'll forgive all its faults.
Best Quote: "This place does not suit my life." "No, Max, it's your life that does not suit this place."
Who: A modern Irish family
Where: New York City
Haram Alert: It's New York City
This isn't a fun movie to watch because we end up really caring for a family living so close to the edge. Irish ex-pats in New York just seem like immigrants who are barely making it. Truth is that ex-pats are immigrants with a new name. All the movies are struggles of survival. New York survival is not as pretty to look at as Portofino or Provence survival.
Best Quote: "There's some things you should wish for and some things you shouldn't."
Who: Toni Collette as an Australian yokel
Haram Alert: Sexual situations
OK, so she only moves around Australia from Porpoise Spit to Sydney. This doesn't really classify as an ex-pat movie geographically. However, psychologically it's all about the changes which happen once she relocates. She re-creates herself and becomes a "somebody".
Best Quote: "When I lived in Porpoise Spit, I used to sit in my room for hours and listen to ABBA songs. But since I met you and moved to Sydney, I haven't listened to one ABBA song. That's because my life is as good as an ABBA song. It's as good as 'Dancing Queen.'"
Nowhere in Africa
Who: Jewish family escaping Europe in WWII
Haram Alert: Even the trailer has some steaminess and nudity
This is a movie I haven't seen but it won "Best Foreign Language Film" in 2003. It looks interesting. Being a refugee isn't actually the same as being an ex-pat. The difference is that, as a refugee, you are fleeing from something and would accept any other place other than where you've been. An ex-pat is more or less fleeing to some place in particular; an idyllic location in some way. Yet, there is a correlation.
It looks like you can view most of the movie on youtube under the name "Nirgendwo en Afrika".
Best Quote: "I'm proud to be an idealist because it shows that I believe in mankind. That may sound naive but every other belief will lead to destruction."
Who: American businessman
Where: Mumbai (Bombay), India
Haram Alert: A man and woman being alone together but (at least in my Saudi-censored version) no actual acts.
We're in India again. This time it's a man coming to the subcontinent to work and yet he finds more to life than just running his call center. I like some of the grittiness of this movie. It's not all nice people doing nice things. It's capitalism taking advantage of the workers. It's a white man trying to have a brown girlfriend. I'm not saying those things are ideal but they are real. It's a funny movie as well.
Best Quote: "Just a word of advice: I remember feeling like you do. I was resisting India. Once I gave in, I did much better."
Under the Tuscan Sun
Who: Diane Lane as an American divorcee
Where: Tuscany, Italy
Haram Alert: Bed hopping
I haven't seen this one!
Best Quote: "Life offers you a thousand chances...all you have to do is take one."
The Year of Living Dangerously
Who: Mel Gibson as an Australian journalist
Haram Alert: Mel Gibson is one big handsome fitnah in this movie. His onscreen romance goes very far.
This is the only movie I can agree on from CNN's Best Expat Movies of All Time. The Year of Living Dangerously was Director Peter Weir's first big hit. He loves to do "fish out of water" stories: "Witness," with Harrison Ford living an Amish life; "Mosquito Coast," with Harrison Ford living in South America; "Dead Poet's Society," with Robin Williams invading a prep school; and "Green Card," with Gerard Depardieu in New York.
Mel Gibson comes across as strong and sane in a world gone mad. Yes, this was many years ago. In the movie, he relies on a cultural informant, Billy Kwan, who was masterfully played by Linda Hunt. She became a kind of hero of mine for her efforts. I was so happy for her win of the Academy Award that year.
Peter Weir adroitly captures sights and sounds and shakiness of an emerging world society. He's one of my favorite directors. You feel the place. You feel the uncertainty of being abroad. You feel the sweat---and not only when Signourey Weaver heats up the screen.
Best Quote: "We must give with love to whoever God has placed in our path."
Is there a movie I left off this list? Let me know in the comments section.