M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953): In a lovelier era, August was mandatory vacation time for the French, and the strain of enforced relaxation shows in Jacques Tati’s classic, his first film for bumbling creation M. Hulot. Holidaying alone in a scenic seaside resort, Hulot proceeds to unwittingly spread minor havoc. He breaks a kayak. He sets off fireworks while everyone sleeps. And he lightly flirts with a girl he’d never have the nerve to seriously approach. Like all Tati films, Holiday is essentially a silent comedy from the sound era, all while tapping a deep reservoir of melancholy.
Bonjour Tristesse (1958): Cecile, 17, is spending her summer on the French Riviera with her cool dad. The bad news: Cool dad has taken up with another woman, ruining their borderline-questionable father-daughter bond. Adapting a bestseller written by 18-year-old Francoise Sagan, director Otto Preminger coldly observes as Cecile bullheadedly ruins her father’s happiness—but without wrecking what doubles as cracking-good travel porn.
Long Weekend (1978): Taking a page from Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend, this Aussie exploitation film depicts a trip taken by a despicable couple, only one who take out their hostilities on Mother Nature, not their fellow man. On a camping trip, our anti-heroes blithely pollute, litter, spray incesticide and kill an innocent dugong. Naturally, Mother Nature strikes back, but the nifty part of Colin Eggleston’s horror is that it never turns overtly supernatural. Karma’s just a bitch.
Le Rayon Vert/Summer (1986): Young Delphine (Marie Riviere) is set for Greece when her travel companion suddenly bails on her. She winds up instead at a house in Cherbourg with a bunch of strangers. It doesn’t work out. So, she tries the Alps, also alone. Too many tourists. Will third luck be the charm in seaside Biarritz? No. Eric Rohmer, the poet of summer films, depicts the drain of vacationing, and the cruel expectations society has of single women.
Funny Games (1997): Before they’re even done unpacking, a wealthy family hitting up their lakeside summer home is visited by a pair of well-mannered young men in tennis clothes. These visitors then proceed to torture and kill them, periodically stopping to wink to the audience, as if to ask why anyone would willingly watch such horrors. Michael Haneke’s breakthrough film is the kind of movie you only want to ever watch once, if at all. And because he’s a total bastard, that’s why he remade it, shot-for-shot, for America, meaning completists had to get traumatized twice.
Brokedown Palace (1999): Jonathan Kaplan’s hysterical drama rehashes 1978’s Turkish prison saga Midnight Express for Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale, who celebrate high school graduation by heading to Thailand, only to get busted on bullshit drug charges. Danes exacerbated the film’s fear of otherness by remarking about how Manila, the Philippines city in which it was shot, “smelled of cockroaches, with rats all over”—leading city officials to declare her “persona non grata.”
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