The Passenger on Spain's Coast

Around the World in 80 Movies research includes watching projects filmed at the bucket list destinations on my trip itineraries. Spain required extensive viewing:


As The Passenger in Spain, Jack Nicholson proves a much more complicated traveler than me. But we share a few traits—after visiting Andalucía we wanted to move on to Tangier, but neither of us made it there. International disruptions stopped us.

Jack’s problems involved guerrilla warfare in Africa. Mine came from Covid-19, which scared the living daylights out of Tangier officials. They refused to let cruise ship passengers disembark, so my Mediterranean exploration starting in Barcelona and continuing to Morocco changed with a substitute booking to Gibraltar.

Sure, I wanted to see Tangier, which I investigated by watching James Bond in The Living Daylights. The upside? Gibraltar shows up in the same film, so I didn’t have to go hunting for a different title. This saved time I needed for the many hours it took to further investigate screen variations of the Silversea Mediterranean itinerary: Barcelona, Valencia, Cartagena in the region of Murcia, the Andalucía provinces of Málaga and Cádiz, plus Gibraltar, and Mallorca.


Silversea Silver Screen Stops

L’Auberge Espagnol, 2002 with Audrey Tautou annoyed when her boyfriend moves to Barcelona. Taking center stage, Romain Duris plays Xavier, a Millennial whose ticket to a good job in Paris requires a year’s study in Barcelona. Often selfish and inconsiderate, he screws around on his girlfriend; he scorns and cuckolds a helpful compatriot; he berates his loving mother. Xavier offsets these bad traits through genuine appreciation for his multicultural bunch of roommates. Better yet, he adores Barcelona, wandering through various sections of the city and paying special attention to such Antoni Gaudí icons as the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. Director Cédric Klapisch uses post-production tricks liking running film at hyper speed or splitting the screen into multiple images for a light-hearted approach to move the slight story along at a brisk pace. Two films followed featuring Duris and actors from the original as they neglect Barcelona and head to other locations in the world. Set jetters find almost 100 titles featuring Barcelona locations. Bigger, more accessible hits include All About My Mother, Barcelona, Biutiful, and Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona (covered in my first travel book, Around the World in 80 Movies) and The Passenger (see below). Watching Barcelona on screen usually means at least a glimpse of key architecture by Gaudí, which should be enough to inspire anyone to visit the city.

El Cid, 1961 with Charlton Heston ruling Valencia and uniting Spain during the Eleventh Century. The massive production radiates a richness and depth lacking in computer-generated-images. Designers built outdoor sets to scale; the Franco government provided thousands of soldiers as extras; director Anthony Mann found real locations to suit the period. With a background in gritty westerns, Mann preferred shooting outside studios so that actors showed the effects of their surroundings such as uncomfortable temperatures that make them shiver, sweat, or look winded. Mann balances the scope of landscapes with revealing close-ups. His stars provide perfect features for those zoomed in shots, Heston jutting his chiseled chin and Loren pouting her full lips. The two engage in both a contentious and loving relationship that often involves posturing more than nuance—and those two sure could posture! The screenplay also avoids subtlety, offering a readily comprehensible concept: El Cid wanted to unify Spain. Accuracy remains questionable—that pretty much happens with anything “based on a true story,” especially those made in the culturally insensitive 1960s. Still, El Cid provides a revealing window into Spain’s past, upping the ante by using many locations throughout the country. Peñíscola in the Valencian Community’s Province of Castellón maintains a webpage dealing with its contributions to filming El Cid. El Cid - Peñíscola Tourism (peniscola.es) The hero’s story also inspired a 2020 television series that shot scenes throughout the country. Both shows provide a reminder about Valencia’s historical importance. Neither mention one of those “duh” moments that occurred when I realized an obvious connection: oranges. Oh yeah, I like oranges. But if you really want to get back to a cruise ship on time, hold off on that local favorite, Agua de Valencia, which takes perfectly good juice and mixes in gin, vodka, and cava (sparkling white wine).

Elephant, 2003 with typical teenagers experiencing an atypical day in Portland, Oregon. A poster for the Gus Van Sant movie Elephant inspired additional unanswered questions regarding a movie full of conundrums. The poster hangs on a wall at the El Toro museum exhibit as part of Bodega Osborne’s sherry tour in El Puerto de Santa Maria near Jerez. On the tour, I looked at the poster with a degree of questioning; I remembered the 2003 film as connected entirely to the United States with a variation of the Columbine High School massacre reset to Van Sant’s hometown in Portland, Oregon. So what links a sherry company in Spain to low-budget, independent project about a distressing trend that sadly continues more than two decades after the film’s release? El Toro, the Osborne bull. An iconic image in Spain, the logo plastered billboards and shows up on souvenirs like a yellow t-shirt with the black toro silhouette. In Elephant, high schooler John sports such a t-shirt throughout the film, and one of the movie’s posters shows no image other than the bull. Otherwise, the movie features neither sherry nor bulls, or for that matter, elephants (except as drawings in a bedroom). Van Sant explains his movie’s title as a nod to the parable about blind men describing an elephant after feeling a different part of its body. No one comes up with viable interpretation. Presenting his story from different vantages of kids starting a routine day at school, Van Sant offers no clear cause, reason, or solution for random violence. His controversial approach using non-actors and improvised dialogue deadens action by repeatedly presenting the same mundane pursuits of characters using only slightly different camera angles. Editing the film himself, Van Sant lets a Steadicam roll through hallways in long shots that lead to standard school activities, from sitting in class to choosing food in a cafeteria. Soft focusing victims or pulling away from shootings, Van Sant avoids glorifying violence, an appropriate choice though one that requires patient viewers—except, perhaps, the judges at the Cannes Film Festival who awarded it the prestigious Palme d’Or. Ultimately, both Van Sant and his viewers remain mystified. And none of this explains the choice to use the Osborne logo.

Ferdinand, 2017 with a giant bull who talks like wrestler John Cena and tries to avoid fights in Ronda. PETA members have no complaint with the 1936 children’s classic about a bull who would rather smell flowers (red ones) than fight. In contrast, the Franco government banned the book in Spain, despite Disney’s 1938 short version winning an Oscar. The story stayed alive in enough other places for the creators of Ice Age to expand the 72-page book into a feature length, computer animated adventure that warmed hearts and earned an Oscar nomination. Filmmakers credit Ronda as inspiration for visuals, with notable links for anyone visiting the city, especially the location’s vistas stunning Puente Nuevo atop dramatic cliffs. Ferdinand’s trip to town proves dangerous: he ends up in a china shop. Adults know what happens then…. Though few actors bother with Spanish accents, their voices suit the characters, from the heavily muscled but sweet wrestler Cena to an ideal “calming goat,” Kate McKinnon of Saturday Night Live. Dr. Who’s David Tennant joins the vocal cast along with football star Peyton Manning.

La ley del deseo (The Law of Desire), 1987, with Antonio Banderas coming between his lover and “the other man” in Cádiz. A Porn Director! Charming Cádiz! Murderous Lust! Writer-Director Pedro Almodóvar adores free spirted people, Spain, and melodramatic movies, combining all three for a look at love that fights boundaries. Almodóvar’s people dislike limitations in their pursuits, whether for creative, sexual, or recreational purposes. Outrageous elements dominate, with the director weaving humor into the mix, like when a little girl worries about her breasts not growing fast enough. Her guardian reassures her with words to the effect of “Calm down, when I was your age, I was flat as a board.” This from a former male, played to the hilt by Almodóvar regular Carmen Maura. Almodóvar laces his script with jabs at all sorts of conventions, tempering a story where obsession leads to twisted action. Spain’s Catholic tradition affects some characters, while the country’s southern coast plays an important role. With a plot needing a lighthouse and seaside resort, Almodóvar chose the Trafalgar in Cádiz. “There’s a nice beach and the most amazing lighthouse,” a character says of the location. Built in 1860 near the Strait of Gibraltar (where Brits won the famous battle of Trafalgar), the lighthouse rises more than 100 feet. About 19 miles way, the whitewashed buildings of Jerez turn up in other scenes. The film whet my appetite for beautiful scenery…and the chance to drink sherry in the region that created it, Jerez.

La isla minima (Marshland), 2014 with Madrid cop Javier Gutiérrez joining his partner on a hunt for a serial killer in Andalucía. Director Alberto Rodríguez enhances a potentially standard police procedural by focusing on personalities and unique circumstances like the setting in the deep south of Spain. Shooting the Guadalquivir Marshes from high above, Rodríguez reveals a startling land and waterscape whose remoteness suits twisted minds. The story’s 80’s setting removes cell phone and easy communication elements; it also provides proximity to Franco’s dictatorship and its links to horrific mindsets. Sound insights add depth that led to the film’s sweeping 10 Goya Awards, a Spanish version of Oscar. Though fictional, the story’s style resembles Memories of Murder, Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s breakthrough film before winning Oscars for Parasite. Both films show police violating suspect rights and Miranda rules expected by U.S. audiences; both also use isolated locations to eerie effect. Maps show s reasonable-looking crow’s flight distance to cruise ship stops in Cádiz, but roads to the marshes make the trip several hours from any major port like Málaga, a name that pops up in the story. Watching the movie impacted my travel plans because I initially hoped to rely on my lightweight, easy-to-carry cell phone camera, which works just fine for snapshots with people and places. But when I saw a bright blue bee-eater and flamingoes that director Rodríguez included in some shots, I checked online and discovered a surprising number of birdwatching opportunities exist throughout Andalucía, including several ports on the itinerary. Given the short focal length of phone lenses, I reconsidered options and included a real camera in my luggage. Though I never saw a bee-eater (wrong season), I got good close ups of parrots.

The Living Daylights, 1987 with Timothy Dalton beginning his short reign as James Bond during an elaborate chase in Gibraltar. Director John Glen gets Dalton and the movie off to an exciting start featuring a failed mission for various Double-0 agents that includes cars zipping down the steep lanes of Old Queen’s Road, Gibraltar, its iconic rock looming large. Both Dalton and Gibraltar look good, with the actor’s first foray as Bond offering a more serious take than predecessor Roger Moore. A classically trained Shakespearean actor, Dalton fit author Ian Fleming’s description of Bond bearing “dark, rather cruel good looks.” And of course Dalton wears a tailored tux well, part of the package required for the films. Bond fans know what they want: guns, gadgets, and girls in glamorous locales. The Living Daylights delivers the goods, providing photogenic destinations for set jetters. Living Daylights locations include Tangier and Vienna with its Hotel Im Palais Schwarzenberg and Grand Ferris Wheel. Franchise producers previously showed up at Gibraltar Harbour, with the water faking Hong Kong for the spy’s phony burial at sea in You Only Live Twice. The movie’s helicopter chase scene filmed in the skies over Andalucía.

The Mallorca Files, 2019-? With Elen Rhys and Julian Looman fighting crime in Spain’s Palma and island environs. As non-Spanish police detectives from Wales and Germany, two officers find themselves assigned to bizarre cases on an island that lures visitors from all over the world. By keeping the timeline contemporary, producers film Mallorca the way it really appears—with crowds, traffic, grafitti, and of course, sublime seaside beauty. Designed as mindless mystery entertainment, most episodes avoid cliffhanger endings or dealing with deep issues and complicated character development. But humor inserts itself, as in Season 1’s Sour Grapes episode when the duo investigates the murder of a dog at a winery. Bodegas Oliver Morgagues and Bodegas Ribas provide the backdrop, which includes the fictional Bodega Negras. The episode includes a hugely expensive bottle of wine, though reality reveals only a couple costing more than $200. (I thoroughly enjoyed a 7E bottle of rose I bought). The show also features a drinking site called Joan’s Bar, actually Moltabarra in the Sa Gerreria area of Palma. The Mallorca Files filming locations: Palma, Inca, Soller, Pollensa | Radio Times

The Passenger, 1975 with Jack Nicholson assuming the identity of an arms dealer traveling through Spain. The plot springboard sounds like a thriller, but anyone raised with Jason Bourne will likely slam the brakes on this one and quickly find another movie to watch. A film for cineastes, The Passengers reflects director Michelangelo Antonioni’s fascination with how perception affects reality. Esoteric? Absolutely, plus intriguing enough to draw legendary and wildly popular Nicholson around the time of his Academy award winning performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Nicholson’s star magnetism and facial expressions prove essential to The Passenger since his character never engages in action film staples. Often opaque, the plot reflects Antonioni’s own penchant to let events flow in a slow, naturalistic manner with minimal music and extra-long takes. Visualist Antonioni finds endemic beauty with locations like Gaudí’s La Pedrera apartments in Barcelona, seeing symbolic value in the architect’s creations that combined mosaics and surreal shapes. Dialogue weaves the concept into the title character’s plight. “Was he crazy?” Nicholson’s character asks, knowing his own actions might seem insane to others. His companion, an unnamed girl studying architecture, responds by asking his impression, and the answer proves telling. Barcelona locations also feature Gaudí’s Palau Güell, plus the Umbracle domed garden at Ciutadella Barcelona, and the Las Ramblas outdoor market with its caged birds. All serve as inspiration to visit the city. Moving south into Andalucía, Antonioni used Osuna’s Hotel de la Gloria in a finale controversial for what a long, single shot reveals. Almería, with its low-slung, whitewashed housing topping a cliff also shows up in the film. Set jetters find much to admire in Almería and environs, with plaques marking locations for films like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The nearby desert region also drew David Lean for Lawrence of Arabia and Sergio Leone for such “spaghetti westerns” as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Sets built for films inspired the tourist destination Fort Bravo, used the start of the 2021 Netflix series White Lines, with dialogue referring to the region’s cinematic, western heritage. The nearby Oasys film town also caters to set jetters.

Red Notice, 2021 with Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds teaming up to catch art thief Gal Gadot on worldwide journeys including a stop in Málaga. Following their successes in blockbusters like The Fast and the Furious, Deadpool, and Wonder Woman franchises, the Red Notice stars blend convivial humor with physical dexterity as they travel the world—though most filming took place in Atlanta, Georgia. Spain warranted a trip from the production company for a comic interlude when Johnson and Reynolds pop out of a tunnel into the middle of a bullring during a fight. Special effects magic worked graphics magic using Málaga’s Alequera Plaza de Toros with 300 extras to cheer on action. Sadly for crowd members, none of the stars appeared in person. Movie magic, also known as computer-generated images, make it look as if the crowd really watches Reynolds, Johnson, and an extremely annoyed bull. No new ground gets broken, by either the bull or filmmakers. Running over plot holes with a bull’s singular focus, the likeable stars create an enjoyable, forgettable romp. As for affecting my visit, I leave the bulls to others and head to appreciating other local wonders like art by native son Pablo Picasso or the call of peregrine falcons nesting at the town’s cathedral.

Suddenly Last Summer, 1959 with Montgomery Clift evaluating Katharine Hepburn’s desire to lobotomize Elizabeth Taylor following a holiday in Mallorca. Talk about Southern Gothic! Playwright Tennessee Williams creates a hothouse of lurid trappings in this jaw droppingly watchable tale that reworks the Pentheus myth. However, Williams’ play never included a sight like Taylor in her prime wearing a clinging white bathing suit so revealing it created an international sensation. The memorable shot of her on the beach shows up in any Google search—results include such titles as “8 of the most iconic swimsuit moments in film.” The movie also gives Hepburn a classic entrance, delivered with the royal entitlement of a queen as she descends in a wrought-iron elevator surrounded by a jungle of plants in her New Orleans garden. Dark interiors filmed on London soundstages. But summer scenes need sun, and Director Joseph Mankiwiecz went for huge visual contrast by shooting on location in the bright seaside regions of S'Agaró in Gerona, Catalonia and Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands. No one complains about the locations, but many of those involved criticized the film itself—including the director, the playwright, and screenwriter Gore Vidal. Constrained by the era’s censorship, the story suffers from vagueness –but it never gets boring. Audiences made the movie a box office hit, while industry members nominated both Hepburn and Taylor for best actress Oscars. Taylor’s beach shot contributes to Mallorca’s image as a hedonistic, glamorous getaway.

The Rhythm Section,2021, with Blake Lively taking revenge in Spanish cities including Cádiz. Wigs and make up help Lively change appearance from sultry prostitute to sprinting assassin in a story showing that not every action hero qualifies as a natural born killer. Director Reed Morano emphasizes character over action, stymied by predictable story elements including revelation of a villain with a hidden identity. Ever feel like someone inserted a flashing neon-lit arrow and pointed it at the mystery object? Plotting aside, Lively ranges from vulnerable to tough, believably switching gears from a down-and-out drug addict to a woman bent on vengeance. Her chase takes her to various European cities including Madrid, which plays itself. The production team traveled south to Almería, which steps in as Morocco. Over on the Atlantic side of the region, the port city of Cádiz serves as Marseilles where Lively runs through narrow, stones passages such as Sopranis, Suárez de Salazar, Plaza de las Canastas, Sargento Daponte, and Pasquín, culminating in a scene involving a bus explosion. Producer Barbara Broccoli already knew Cádiz’s could function as another location, having worked there with the action genre’s most natural born killer, James Bond. The Havana, Cuba section for 2002’s Die Another Day shot in Cádiz, using San Sebastian Castle as site of Isla de Los Organos, a medical clinic specializing in cutting edge DNA therapy. However, most Bond fans remember the movie for its classic entrance of entrance of Halle Berry as super-agent Jinx, emerging from the water’s Caleta Beach in Cádiz with a to-die-for bikini. With a sweep of her head and sway of hips, she beautifully fills her orange suit, accessorized by a white belt whose sheath holds an impressive dagger. Halle Berry Bikini Scene in Die Another Day Movie - YouTube. While the movie’s water urges me to jump in and get refreshed, I cede cinematic bikini championship to Berry and stick to my practical one-piece. Halle Berry as super-agent Jinx, emerging from the water’s Caleta Beach in Cádiz. With a sweep of her head and sway of hips, she beautifully fills an orange bikini accessorized by a white belt whose sheath holds an impressive dagger. While the movie’s water urges me to jump in and get refreshed, I cede cinematic bikini championship to Berry and stick to my practical one-piece.

Terminator: Dark Fate, 2019 with Arnold Schwarzenegger offering help after Linda Hamilton saves a young girl in Mexico—where some roads look like those in Murcia. A grounding in the first two Terminator movies makes it easier to understand interactions between stars Schwarzenegger and Hamilton, though the plot skeleton remains the same: a robot from the future goes back in time to kill an up-and-coming savior. Ignoring three other franchise installments, Dark Fate takes off from the second episode (T2 to fans) and quickly moves forward 20 years to the convergence of an adversarial robot, an enhanced human, and badass Linda Hamilton on gritty highways of Mexico. Stunts and special effects look spectacular, taking advantage of the latest in technology. Skeletal robots move with the grace and speed of jaguars, occasionally melting into a liquified mass, only to regenerate like mercury. Movie magic includes transforming Spain into Mexico, with little sign of the switch (though a freeway chase near Murcia features European style plants). More than top quality production values, Dark Fate’s draw comes from reteaming the initial film’s stars for the first time in 28 years. Story development includes the former Mr. Hamilton (James Cameron) as a writer and producer and gives women a chance to shine in action roles. Still, no follow-up matches the surprising originality the first Terminator supplied. The first works just fine as a stand-alone film, with a clear beginning and end. As a reviewer, I rated the first as one of the ten-best movies made in the 80s and never felt a need for sequels (though I admired the one time groundbreaking special effects of the second).

The Trip to Spain, 2017, with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon continuing culinary and comic adventures in Europe. Since plotting comes from an itinerary based on a group of restaurants, enjoying the British comedians’ banter is a matter of…taste. Displaying dry wit and a talent for imitations, the two play themselves but include fictional elements plus actors portraying other characters like Coogan’s son. Coogan, better known internationally than his co-star, allows himself to come off as the more irritating and fragile of the two, with an ego that needs frequent reference to his Oscar nominated work with Judi Dench in Philomena. Three editors help Director Michael Winterbottom weave together activities like a photo session with the stars as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, plus conversation at restaurants in four different regions including Andalucía’s El Refectorium Malagueta in Málaga. I envy the stars’ ability to find someone willing to pay them for eating gastronomic wonders in exciting locations, though routines occasionally drag and seem forced. If the duo wears on your patience, try the trailer for the best parts (2) The Trip To Spain (2017) - Official Trailer - YouTube. Though credits list participating restaurants, the diners say little about the places and dishes other than variations of “yum.” But a look at the seafood dishes in Málaga seems enough to stimulate a side trip during the free exploration time allowed by a cruise itinerary.

Tomorrowland, 2015, with George Clooney as an inventor helping a young duo turn idealistic dreams into reality in a futuristic community that looks like Valencia’s City of Science and Arts. Filled with centuries-old buildings that preserve and respect tradition, Spain offers a startling contrast to the past with gleaming, spherical creations found in Valencia. Suited to sci-fi set design, the facility makes a natural setting for a story inspired by one of the Disneyland amusement park’s original worlds, Tomorrowland. The real Tomorrowland provides more fun than the movie, as does Valencia. A wealth of talent and massive budget fail to overcome the Tomorrowland’s tired familiar predictability, ironic for a tale that promotes inventive and forward thinking. In contrast, the City of Science and Arts fills the senses with meaningful creative forces, combining past masterpieces with future hopes.

White Lines, 2020 with Laura Haddock seeking answers to her brother’s long ago fate on a Spanish island. Set on Ibiza but with orgy scenes filmed at Mallorca mansions, the Netflix mini-series plays into the decadent image created decades before in Suddenly Last Summer. But this time out, no bathing suits needed. Writers jump on a trampoline of excess, as each landing rockets action to a higher level of bad behavior blended with beauty—in both people and places. Mindlessly bingeworthy, the show let me practice listening to Spanish but didn’t help with other Mallorca travel plans since none of my cruise ship options featured excursions to orgy mansions. White Lines Filming Locations in Mallorca | No Frills Excursions (nofrills-excursions.com). By 2022, the name Mallorca conjures pictures of party central craziness, which helps explain why screenwriters use it as a setting when Nic Cage plays an action movie star named Nick Cage who gets paid to attend a birthday bash for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Going along with the movie’s many fictitious elements, Croatia provides Mallorca’s locations.

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For cinema fans, these shows practically demand exclamation points: James Bond! Liz Taylor! Almodóvar! And more! Reality deserves the same punctuation.

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*Robin Holabird spent more than 20 years as a state film commissioner helping producers find locations in Nevada. Her two books, Around the World in 80 Movies plus Elvis, Marilyn, and the Space Aliens reflect her experiences as a world traveler, former editor of Locations Magazine, and approved reviewer for Rotten Tomatoes and Reno’s NPR affiliate Movie Minutes with Robin Holabird : NPR. Both books are available on Amazon.


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