Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Emporter les poissons

It can now be told why I posted earlier and more briefly than usual last week. You see, one evening last week I turned on my television set and was electrified by what I saw. I saw hordes of young French people marching in the streets, standing up for their rights, taking the power of the people out into the public places of Paris and other French cities. When I felt that energy and idealism, I knew immediately that I had to go there and be a part of it.

Okay, here’s what really happened. Weeks ago my partner in crime (my infamous Scottish brother-in-law by marriage) and I made plans to fly to Bordeaux for an extended weekend in order to make ourselves sick consuming copious quantities of red wine. The night before our departure, I turned on the TV news to see the following: 1) coverage of a one-day general strike in France (precipitating the cancellation of several flights between Ireland and France) due to workers and students standing up for the principle of employers not being able to fire or lay off employees no matter how short a time they have been with a company, 2) the threat of imminent work stoppage action at the airline on which we were booked because the Irish government had decided to partially privatize it, and 3) follow-up to a recent incident in which occupants of two cars had a gunfight as they sped down the motorway leading to the Dublin airport. All in all, things were looking good.

(Note to the NSA: In case you are monitoring this web site, as well as listening to my telephone conversations, the term “partner in crime” is strictly figurative.)

Any sane person might have tried to cut their losses and see if they could get refunds for the airline tickets and the hotel rooms. But since the two of us essentially do not have enough sanity between us to account for a single mentally healthy human being, we went ahead and met at the airport to see what would happen. Somewhat anticlimactically, the flight and the taxi ride to the hotel, which actually was expecting us, all went off on schedule and without incident. We were all set for a great few days of warmer weather, better food, better coffee, better looking people, a culture of wine worship and a stroll down memory lane, as I visited long-ago haunts of my exchange student days. I would like to give you a blow-by-blow account of what we did, but frankly I don’t remember much of it. We did see some demonstrations, as evidenced by this snap from the city’s main shopping street.

Secondary students march down Bordeaux’s Rue Ste Catherine

If you are in the habit of thinking about everything in terms of high-concept movies, then the best way to convey the spirit of the five-day weekend would be Eurotrip meets Sideways. Which brings up an interesting point. Never mind the daunting potential complications of occasional dicey transportation logistics in and between certain strike-prone European countries, the main psychological obstacle for Americans to travel around Europe might well be the standard storylines in movies about Americans visiting Europe. Let’s face it, in broad comedies from Disney’s Bon Voyage! (with Fred MacMurray and Jane Wyman) to Mel Stuart’s If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium to National Lampoon’s European Vacation, the theme is generally that Americans are clueless and Europeans are rude and condescending. But lately it has gotten worse. Perhaps reflecting recent political tensions between the U.S. government and other countries, films about Americans in Europe have taken a darker turn. The best evidence is Eli Roth’s Hostel, which harkens back to Alan Parker’s 1978 fact-based flick Midnight Express. In Roth’s film, young American backpackers go to the old continent in search of easy drugs and wanton sex. Their hedonistic quest leads them to Slovakia, where their problems turn out to be considerably more serious than deciding whether to tip an extremely rude waiter.

They should have gone to Bordeaux to drink wine instead. We stayed at a small “boutique” hotel that had rooms, beds and showers much larger than I remember seeing in France before. It was run by a nice couple who were extremely friendly and eager to help. That, however, did not cut any ice with a rather famous British wine commentator, who was also staying there. After one night, she delivered a long list of complaints to the genial hosts and checked out. I would be interested to know if she was able to find anything better. She should just have been happy that she wasn’t staying in a hostel in Slovakia.

Bordeaux is a very picturesque city. Unlike other French cities, it escaped a lot of bombing during World War II, so it boasts many fine buildings and monuments going all the way back to medieval times. Given all this living heritage, it is amazing that it has not been used more often as a backdrop for location movie filming. As I walked the city’s streets, I tried to think of movies that have used Bordeaux as a setting and/or filming location. Only two came immediately to mind: the tricky/creepy love story He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not, with Audrey Tatou as a strangely obsessed young Bordelaise, and Bon Voyage, in which an assortment of Parisians install themselves in Bordeaux in advance of the Nazi invasion. The IMDB actually lists a few other films, as well as some French TV shows, that have done filming there. For example, Bordeaux was among several locations around France used for the mindlessly shocking 2000 film Baise-moi, in which a pair of woman go on a murderous revenge spree after horrific rape.

Fortunately, our own séjour was not so negative. On our visits to various vineyards, chateaux, wine shops, wine bars and restaurants, we were sure to pick up some nice bottles and other knickknacks to bring back to the missuses. As my partner in crime noted, “After Brokeback Mountain, when husbands go away for a weekend, they really need to be sure to bring home the fish.”

-S.L., 6 April 2006

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