Hunting down the right location is normally a crucial part of filming a movie and something that the production team might spend weeks or even months doing prior to commencing shooting. Normally, the ability to provide the right setting for a specific scene or sequence is what sets semi-good directors apart from the real geniuses within the field. Strict requests from the director’s team regarding lighting, landscapes and aesthetics may seem trivial when reviewed in isolation, but the truth is magic is created on the silver screen when all seemingly minor factors come together and help to convey the creative vision behind it all.
Considering the above, a specific geographic destination (country, city or landscape) may, therefore, be fundamental to the storytelling. In Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” for example (released in 2008), the picturesque beauty and characteristic architecture of the Catalan capital Barcelona, as well as the idyllic scenery of the Costa Brava coastline, is portrayed so eloquently that the city almost appears to play the lead role.
In scenes that take us through Cristina’s (played by Scarlett Johansson) romantic endeavors and Vicky’s (portrayed by Rebecca Hall) moral dilemmas about whether to choose a more conventional, safe married life or opt for something else, we are guided through Barcelona’s narrow streets, alleyways and cozy bars. When the film’s eccentric and passionate local artist Juan Antonio, a role masterly taken on by Spanish actor Javier Bardem, comes into the picture (no pun intended) joined by a phenomenal Penelope Cruz, the Barcelona setting lifts the film to an entirely new level.
It is no surprise that Allen chose that city as the destination for his movie in which Penelope Cruz ended up winning an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.
Barcelona tends to be many celebrity’s favorite place, with Columbian singer-songwriter Shakira relocating here years ago and it being home to FC Barcelona player Lionel Messi. Professional American basketball player “Joey” Dorsey lived in the city until 2017 while practicing his sport and globetrotting Team PokerStars pro Fatima Moreira de Melo cites it as her “favorite destination.”
Most recently, the allure and charm of the Italian countryside, with its verdant gardens, exquisite countryside homes and inviting swimming pools, set the exact right tone for the critically acclaimed movie “Call Me by Your Name.” The film, which is shot by Italian director Luca Guadagnino (previously known for “I am Love” and “A Bigger Splash,” both featuring his muse Tilda Swinton) is based on a book, which takes place in the Mediterranean seaside region of Liguria.
The film, however, takes place in the inland region of Lombardy, an area that Guadagnino is more than familiar with as he lives in the nearby small town of Crema (located about an hour from Milan). In the film, the director conveys the preciousness of the Italian countryside so elegantly that the love story between the young Elio (played by Timothée Chalamet) and his older brother Oliver (played by Armie Hammer) is elevated in a way that at time feels electric.
Regarding this choice of destination for his movie, Guadagnino said: “Crema has a sense of timelessness that I like, but I also think that it is quintessentially Italian without being an idea of Italy,” and “It’s just Italy. A lot of these Hollywood movies made in Italy look as fake as a chocolate coin. It’s a danger I don’t want to risk. For me, it’s important you make the thing that looks the most correct and the most real.”
Ultimately, it is the magic that the average moviegoer is after when heading into the movie theater. We want to be mesmerized by the settings portrayed, maybe even inspired to one day visit them, too. At the same time, we crave for a certain level of authenticity and realness, and we want to feel that what we’re seeing is happening, which is why geographic destinations for shooting are so critical.