10 Great English-Language Films To Help You Discover Spain

6. Land and Freedom (Ken Loach, 1995)

Land and Freedom

It is the spring of 1936 and a young unemployed communist named David (Ian Hart) leaves his hometown Liverpool to join the fight against fascism in Spain. He joins the newly formed Spanish militia but after being wounded, he goes to Barcelona, where he ends up fighting other anti-fascist groups. David’s idealism is tested to its limit as his comrades are killed and the alliance is more than likely to be disintegrated. David, then, starts to ask himself questions about whether or not his struggles were in vain.

This is a Ken Loach film so it is a gritty realist film where imagery plays an important part in the storytelling. At times, one has the impression of watching a stylized documentary of the Spanish Civil War and not a feature film that is mostly fiction. It is definitely a film worth checking out; the struggles are there, the fights are there, the landscape is there and Spain is there.


7. Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer, 2000)

Sexy Beast

If you are looking for fast-paced, mindless, action-gangster films, then this isn’t for you. “Sexy Beast” is a very intelligent, though not so sexy, gangster film that takes its time in developing the story and revealing itself. Even from the opening frames of the film, one realizes that this is no ordinary picture.

As the opening credits roll, The Stranglers’ sleazy song “Peaches” can be heard almost in its entirely. What follows is even sleazier. A slightly chubby, but very nicely tanned, Ray Winstone sits by the pool enjoying a cold drink and the warm sun in his Spanish villa. Just after his brief monologue about enjoying the good life, a boulder rolls down the hill straight into the pool announcing that things are about to be stirred up in the life of ex-safe-cracker Gal.

The arrival of brutal British gangster Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), whose intent is enlisting him in bank heist back in London, brings agitation into Gal’s harmonious life. A series of unfortunate circumstances that ultimately end up with the killing of Don Logan, force Gal to take the job and try to get back, as soon as he can, to his Spanish Paradise.

The lush, laid-back life that everyone envisions when thinking of Spain is thoroughly present in “Sexy Beast” and the sun seems to scorch everything (in contrast to London’s rainy weather awaiting for Gal’s return) and cloud the minds and judgements of the film’s characters.


8. Americano (Kevin Noland, 2005)


2005 was an year in which Joshua Jackson appeared in two productions that seemed to advertise a certain country. One such film was “Shadows in the Sun”, which featured the beautiful scenery of Tuscany, Italy. The other was “Americano”, a film about an American named Chris McKinley (Joshua Jackson) that is on a backpacking expedition in across Europe, alongside two friends.

Chris has just finished college and is now having his sabbatical year, during which he just wants to travel and experience the world. In a way, his is avoiding the responsibilities that wait for him at home and is trying to prolong the care-free life he has led so far.

The final destination of his journey is Pamplona where Chris is eager to witness the famous “running of the bulls”, a phenomenon he has been fascinated with since forever. All and all a nice little travel film that opens eyes on a different mentality, a different culture and a different world that can only be found in the heart of Spain.


9. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, 2008)


In the 21st century, Woody Allen finally broke out of his beloved New York and started setting his films in other locations. He did several films in London (“Match Point”, “Cassandra’s Dream”, “Scoop” and “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”), one in Paris (“Midnight in Paris”) and one in Rome (“To Rome with Love”). But, by far, his more sensual and riskier foreign-location film was “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, a comedic drama of love, lust and sexuality.

The plot centers on two American women, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), who spend a summer in Barcelona. It is here that they meet artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who is attracted to both of them while still enamored of his mentally and emotionally unstable ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz).

The film – narrated by Woody Allen – feels very European at times (especially during the scenes over-charged with sexual innuendo) but in some aspects, it is still an American movie (in terms of editing and storytelling). It is not even a love triangle, because the “love” is split four ways.

All of the four persons involved in this tangle perceive love and commitment very differently. Vicky is practical and traditional in her approach to love and commitment and is engaged to a reliable man, whereas Cristina imagines herself to be a nonconformist, spontaneous but unsure of what she wants from life or love. Juan Antonio is reserved and sensible but capable of great passions when stirred while Maria Elena is volcanic and unpredictable.

In the background of all these complicated love stories sits Barcelona, as stunning as always with its Gaudian buildings and its Catalonian charm. After seeing the movie, one cannot imagine the action taking place in another city…it is impossible.


10. The Way (Emilio Estevez, 2010)

The Way

The pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago or El Camino has been going on for centuries. It is a pilgrimage made by Christians from all over the world to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried.

Many take up this route as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. Over the last decades, its popularity has grown considerably and more and more people choose to make this pilgrimage out of belief or just pure curiosity. The Spanish state has regulated this route, making sure that the pilgrims have a safe trip to Santiago de Compostela.

With such popularity, it was bound to attract the artistic world and to be featured in different forms of art. In literature, it has been famously depicted by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho in his book “Diary of a Mage”. In film, the subject was first tackled, in the English speaking world, by Emilio Estevez who called his film “pro-people, pro-life, not anti-anything.”

The film is simply called “The Way” and it is about a father (Martin Sheen) who heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son (Emilio Estevez) who died while traveling the “El Camino”. In honor of his son, he decides to take the pilgrimage himself. Along the long road, he meets and befriends an overweight man from Amsterdam, a Canadian woman fleeing from her abusive husband and an Irish writer who never reached his full potential.

All of them are taking the pilgrimage for different reasons but they are all united by hopes that “the way” will give them wisdom and fulfillment. The film was shot on the real “El Camino”. The road is not cosmeticized or stylized in any way; that’s why it is not always sunny or pretty to look at. The nature scenes of the film almost feel like a documentary rather than a feature film. This is a wonderful film about a different kind of road trip in Northern Spain.

Author Bio: Horia Nilescu is a 30-year-old cinephile from Brasov, Romania. He works at a local bookstore as a multimedia & events manager (handling supplying issues in regards to cd’s and dvd’s and also organizing local events). He is passionate about film and fascinated by its diversity. He has created a local film club in Brasov (going of 3 years) in which he handles all aspects. He likes to talk and write about movies but most importantly he likes to watch them.