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We’re off in a motorcar…

Sarah Helm's monthly film blog takes us on a journey about journeys – happy travels!

Winter, as a once great series stated, is coming. As energy prices continue to soar, waiting lists for allotments become even longer and people continue to covet their neighbour’s air fryers to Biblical proportions, perhaps it’s time to get away from it all… at least in blog form.

And don’t you come back…

Powering into The Elgiva on Wednesday 23rd November is the comedy drama Hit The Road (2021).

Helmed by first-time director, Panah Panahi, the Iranian road trip sees bantering parents (played by Pantea Panahiha and Mohammad Hasan Madjuni) journey with their eight year old (Rayan Sarlak) and their ailing dog, mainly driven across the north west of the country to Turkey by their eldest son, (Amin Simiar), under the guise of the travelling for his upcoming marriage.

Hit The Road contains a lot of humour and astute performances from the main cast, as well commentary about displacement in Iran’s current political climate. It is one of a number of recent Iranian titles, filmed largely within the interior of a car – Taste of Cherry (1997), Taxi Tehran (2015) and Three Faces (2018) being others in this sub-genre.

Shooting within a vehicle enables the filmmakers more autonomy over their narratives, owing to the set being self-contained and less open to scrutiny from the authorities. As it was, Panah Panahi (son of famed director and political activist, Jafar Panahi) had to submit a decoy script with a positive, moralistic ending about Iranian society in order to be granted a filming permit. This frequently used tactic paid off and the finished film has received glowing reviews from critics and audiences alike, gaining a nomination at Cannes and winning awards at the BFI, Luxembourg and Singapore Film Festivals.

Sweetness and light

Perhaps somewhat predictably, critics have labelled Hit The Road as Iran’s answer to Little Miss Sunshine (2006). The Sundance favourite is a big-heated comedy drama about a dysfunctional family, travelling 800 miles from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach in California in a campervan, so that eight year old Olive (played by Abigail Breslin) can participate in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, and show off her dance moves. The all-star cast boasts Toni Collette, Steve Carell and Alan Arkin, as the acerbic grandad (who else?) who won both a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and BAFTA for his role. Little Miss Sunshine also won Best Screenplay at the Oscars, for its charm, pathos and dark humour. In 2013, it even became a Broadway musical…

Father knows best

Charm and pathos are not adjectives usually connected with offerings of Chevy Chase. In the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise, he stars as the insufferably smug Clark Griswold. Throughout the four films, Clark and his long-suffering wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), take their children on a series of holidays, with hilarious results. The first film, National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) penned by John Hughes and directed by Harold Ramis, sees the family travel across America, from Chicago to California to get to the Wally World amusement park.

In true broad 80s comedy style, the family experience a number of ‘hilarious’ mishaps, mainly due having to save money, and the death of a family pet and an elderly aunt (grab me a needle, my sides have split), both of whom are disposed of in sensitive ways (ha! Just kidding). The film was a box office hit and spawned a string of sequels – European Vacation (1985 – stereotypes ahoy!), Christmas Vacation (1989 – they stay at home, the neighbourhood wish they hadn’t), Vegas Vacation (1997 – Chase has not left the building), and the obligatory reboot Vacation (2015).

Each film features different children as the Griswold offspring Rusty and Audrey, including Juliette Lewis in Christmas Vacation. This is because Anthony Michael Hall, who played Rusty in the original, turned down the sequel to appear in Weird Science (1985), and the recasting became a trend. (You see, never miss an opportunity to glean useless information for your next pub quiz!)

Robin Williams had similar aspirations for the ultimate family bonding experience in RV (2006), driving his wife and two children steadily to distraction, from California to Boulder, Colorado (presumably calling in to the Mork & Mindy museum en route).

By the end of the trip, they all learn that family and friendships are more important than any lucrative promotion, a message which is cemented by a sing-a-long – only broken up when the schmaltz police appear and put an end to the saccharine revelry.

Life is Swede

The Anderssons Hit The Road (2013), not to be confused with this month’s screening, is a Swedish comedy which sees the Andersson family travel across Europe to a village in South Tyrol, where Mr and Mrs Andersson went on honeymoon twenty years previously.

It looks like a cousin to National Lampoon, but as it has subtitles, it might make it more palatable for some. The film is based on the Sune series of books, for children and young adults by Anders Jacobsson and Soren Olsson, and has more than a nod to the von Trapp family, who also pledged to climb every mountain to pastures new, goatherds or no goatherds, while listening to The Sound Of Music (1965). (Oh, Julie and Christopher…Christmas is coming, let’s hit the streaming services for this one!)

A serving of Broccoli

Another wholesome family favourite about an epic journey is the musical fantasy, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). Based on the novel by Ian Fleming (surely the next Bond will finally have this as his vehicle), and the screenplay co- written by Roald Dahl, Chitty is the story of two Truly Scrumptious children and their inventor father, Caractacus Pots (geddit?) (Dick Van Dyke leavin’ his corkerney accent behind this time, dontcha know?) who take a flying car on magical adventures, and gave generations of children nightmares in the form of the greasy haired Child Catcher (I saw the West End production with Wayne Sleep in this role, and fared no better. And I was in my 20s…)

Many of the exterior scenes were filmed in Buckinghamshire, so those of you taking your own road trips in and around the Chilterns, keep your eyes peeled tout de suite – or should that be ‘toot de sweet’?!

An alien concept

A less conventional take on the genre is the animated adventure The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021). A family road trip before college takes an unexpected turn when The Mitchell clan find themselves in a battle to save the human race from a global robot uprising. Will they succeed? Are we all doomed? Is it a scaremongering prophecy wrapped in a kids film? (Put down that Smartphone and go outside for some fresh air! Join the fight!)

Sailing through it

If all this talk of long-distance driving is giving you climate anxiety (and who can blame you, most of these titles were filmed before Elon Twitter Musk could even write Tesla), then how about a sea cruise? 

Liberte-Oleron (2001) is the story of a Jaques (Denis Podalydes), the father of four sons, who, while experiencing a midlife crisis during a family holiday on Oleron Island, decides that the solution is to buy a vessel and sail five kilometres to the island of Aix.

Perhaps he hadn’t heard of the old adage, the two best days of a man’s life are the day that he buys his boat…and the day that he sells his boat…(Those without boats will just have to settle for wedding days and the birth of children…)

Coast to Coast

Galivant (1996), is an intergenerational documentary by Andrew Kotting, who filmed his 85 year old grandmother, Gladys, and his seven year old daughter, Eden, as the three of them travelled around the coast of Britain. The journey was made more of a challenge as Eden was born with Joubert syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. The expedition brings the family closer together, and, I am happy to report that Eden grew up to become an artist, and held her latest exhibition at East London’s New Arts Project gallery this summer.

Paws to admire the view

As Britain prides itself on being a nation of pet lovers, no family-trekking list would be complete without mention of Disney’s The Incredible Journey (1963) or its remake, Homeward Bound (1993).

Based on the novel by Sheila Burnford, the films tell the tail (see what I did there?) of three pets who travel 250 perilous miles through the wilderness to be reunited with their owners. They say never work with children or animals, however, if you are going to have a cat and two dogs out-perform the human actors, I’d suggest you have a strong word with your casting director.

We need to talk about Kevin

And on the subject of being reunited with loved ones, let’s conclude with Home Alone (1990), the Christmas comedy where a group of bratty and over privileged narcissists flounce off to France from Chicago for the holidays, leaving eight year old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) unsupervised, to survive off cheese pizza and fend off the local burglars. (Although anyone who has ever stepped on a Lego brick with bare feet knows he’s thinking along the right lines for home security).

This was also written by John Hughes (who seemed to have unresolved issues regarding family holidays). Kevin’s mother, Kate, (Catherine O’Hara) is so remorseful about leaving her son Home Alone, that she moves heaven and earth to get back to him in time for Christmas (although the others don’t seem too fussed and turn up approximately 3 minutes later, having taken a scheduled flight).

The family couldn’t have been too upset about the whole scenario, as in 1992 they did it again in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. (There are no mentions of social services throughout any of this, if you’re looking for gritty realism.) To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, ‘To forget Kevin once is a misfortune, twice looks like carelessness, and more than this is just jumping on the bandwagon with a string of inferior sequels’.

So, that parks our scenic detour of family road movies, with not one single mention of Cliff Richard!! Hopefully there’s something within the list to ignite your interest and entertain you, while you Hit the Road!

Doh!

Drive safely and see you at the movies!

Sarah

Information about the Chiltern Film Society can be found HERE

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