Motion pictures, of course, tell stories first and foremost, but at their most photogenic, films can also transport moviegoers to distant lands. Especially during the pandemic, Travelogue Cinema has enabled housebound audiences to vicariously travel the world courtesy of the geographically inspired visuals captured in some of the world’s most beautiful locales.
Here’s an armchair moviegoer’s travel guide to the scene-stealing views of the art, culture and chic fashions of Milan and the snowy Alps with Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci”; the beaches and sparkling waters of Greece with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter”; and the casual seasides and fog-shrouded hills of Naples in Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Hand of God.”
But then again, all those luscious settings could make some feel even more trapped in their own circumstances. The Envelope can help that too. Skip ahead and step into the cringe-worthy scenery of Sean Baker’s “Red Rocket,” with its plains and smoking oil refineries.
‘HOUSE OF GUCCI’
Prime location: Milan, settled in AD 400.
Concept: “Succession,” Italian style
Foreground: Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jared Leto and Lady Gaga portray a rich family tearing itself to shreds amid breathtaking luxury.
Location swapping: In reality, the St. Moritz ski resort in Switzerland welcomed Maurizio Gucci when he fled tax authorities. In the movie, filmmakers swapped in the equally chic Gressoney-Saint-Jean, in the Italian Alps. Snow nearly always reads well on the big screen, and filmmakers took full advantage of the slopes’ white-sugar splendor.
Body of water: Lake Como, 50 miles north of landlocked Milan, provides serene respite for the fractious clan.
Home, sweet home: The palatial Villa Balbiano serves as home to Pacino’s avuncular Enzo Gucci. The 16th century estate, overlooking Lake Como, comes complete with ancient frescoes, six cavernous suites, an outdoor swimming pool, private dock and pillars. Lots of pillars.
Landscape: The villa’s perfectly manicured frontyard, adorned with pillars and statues, has earned a commendation from the British Society of Garden Designers.
Where to eat? Power lunches happen at the elegant Il Salumaio, situated in the courtyard of Palazzo Bagatti Valsecchi and furnished with archways, floor-to-ceiling windows and pillars.
Streetscape: Milan’s Quadrilatero della Moda fashion district embodies Old World glamour, with its cobblestone streets, arches, pillars and sidewalk cafes. Mellifluous locales include Piazza Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and Piazza della Scala.
Getting around: Two-wheelers. Mauricio rides a no-frills bike through Milan’s narrow, cobblestone streets and wheels through the countryside on a scooter.
Auteur’s eye: Director Scott, who studied at the Royal College of Art, has never met a spectacular wide shot he doesn’t like, framing his landscapes with painterly precision.
‘THE LOST DAUGHTER’
Prime location: The Greek island of Spetses
Concept: Brooding on the beach.
Foreground: Taciturn professor Leda (Olivia Colman) just wants to be left alone on her sun-dappled vacation, but a nervous young mother (Dakota Johnson) triggers troubling flashbacks.
Body of water: The Ionian Sea, between Greece and Italy. Its cerulean waves lap the narrow beach where Leda tries to sunbathe in peace.
Streetscape: Spetses’ quaint village bars cars but welcomes pedestrians with its open-air markets and vintage jewelry shops.
Home, sweet home: The low-key whitewashed inn where Leda stays plays to its strength, with balcony views of the sea.
Landscape: Pine trees dot the scrubby hills looming over the shoreline. The bucolic setting proves inhospitable when a fast-falling pine cone smacks Leda painfully in the back.
Auteur’s eye: Writer-director Gyllenhaal substituted Spetses for the Italian coastal village originally described by “The Lost Daughter” author Elena “My Brilliant Friend” Ferrante but stayed true to the book’s complicated take on motherhood.
‘THE HAND OF GOD’
Prime Location: Naples, in southern Italy, circa 1987.
Concept: Ancient seaport, modern teen.
Foreground: Teenager Fabietto (Filippo Scotti) roams the streets of his elegantly gritty hometown, where he experiences his first crush, first family tragedy, first sex with a neighbor and first Federico Fellini cattle-call audition.
Streetscape: Fabietto likes to hang out at the towering 19th century Galleria Umberto I shopping district, named after King Umberto I.
Landmark: The dramatically domed church of San Francesco di Paola, fronted by eight colonnades, dominates the town square of Naples.
Body of water: The Mediterranean Sea steals every scene it’s in, rolling up to the fog-shrouded hills that rise in the distance above white-as-teeth houses perched along the shore.
Home, sweet home: Worlds away from the grim slums depicted in HBO Max’s Naples-set “Gomorrah” crime series, Fabietto lives in a pastel-colored housing complex where good-natured cousins, aunts and neighbors share jokes and gossip.
Auteur’s eye: Writer-director Sorrentino showcases locations he frequented as a teenager, as when he filmed a family gathering above his aunt’s apartment where he once watched soccer games on TV.
Prime location: Texas City, Texas
Concept: “Midnight Cowboy” among the oil refineries.
Foreground: Ex-porn star Mikey (Simon Rex) returns to his working-class hometown to make a fresh start.
Getting around: Bus, bike, pickup truck and walking.
Where to eat: The pink and flesh-toned Donut Hole, in nearby Port Arthur, backdrops the meet-cute between Mikey and restless teen Strawberry (Suzanna Son).
Home, sweet home: Mikey crashes at his estranged wife’s dilapidated one-story house, painted a sickly yellow and outfitted with rusty drainpipes.
Body of water: The Gulf of Mexico.
Auteur’s eye: Writer-director Baker never films on soundstages. He shot “The Florida Project” in and around a cheap motel near Disney World and filmed “Tangerine” on the streets of West Hollywood. Baker picked Texas City as his primary location for “Red Rocket” while driving north from Corpus Christi along the Gulf Coast’s Refinery Row. Flame-belching smokestacks dominate the horizon in nearly every exterior shot, devolving into a Dante-esque hellscape at night when a desperate Mikey runs naked through the street.