7 best expat movies of all time

7 best expat movies of all time

If you never knew how painful, surreal and heartbreaking expat life could be, block out a weekend, and your windows, and settle down with these masterpieces

If the worst movies about expat life aren't enough to put you off moving overseas, then the best ones certainly are.

For would-be overseas workers who think it's all about lounging in exotic bars dressed in linen suits and Panama hats, these servings of classic cinema should set the record straight.

So pull up a chair, toss your passport on the fire, then watch and learn how it's done from the old hands.

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7. 'Dirty Pretty Things' (2002)

Dirty Pretty Things The pretty comes free. For the dirty, you have to pay.
French actress Audrey Tatou finds herself a long way from the tooth-achingly sweet world of "Amelie" as Turkish cleaner Senay ekeing out an existence in London’s grimy underworld of exploited immigrant workers.

There's no one to steal her heart here -- although Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Nigerian hotel porter, with whom she timeshares a bed, comes close -- they're just after her kidney.

Enlightening expat dialog

Senay: "He said he would report me to immigration, and he made me suck. But today I bit."


6. 'The Wages of Fear' (1953)

The Wages of Fear "I'll ... never ... teach ... ESL ... again!"
This brutal piece of black and white French cinema reeks of unwashed vests, but its depiction of nasty expat truck drivers worthlessly risking their grubby lives in the South American jungle is as explosive as the deadly nitroglycerine cargoes they’re paid to deliver.

Everyone is detestable, everyone dies and not even the dogs care. That's how expat life should be.

Enlightening expat dialog

Dick: "When I was a kid, I used to see men go off on these kinds of jobs ... and not come back."


5. 'Straw Dogs' (1971)

Straw Dogs"No, really, I love the smell of tweed in the morning."
“Wild Bunch” director Sam Peckinpah takes a double-barrel shotgun to all those smug, honey-hued films about rural expat life in this tale about repressed American mathematician David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) relocating to his wife’s Cornish village.

There are no hilarious misunderstandings with local plumbers, just thugs on tricycles.

There's no sun-kissed romance, just a marriage disintegrating into domestic violence.

And there are no life-affirming friendships, just a cat getting throttled.

The film's brutality is a bit hard to stomach. No doubt the remake starring Kate Bosworth, due out later this year, will also to be hard to stomach, but for entirely different reasons.

Enlightening expat dialog

Henry Niles: "I don't know my way home."

David Sumner: "That's OK. I don't either."

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4. 'The Last King of Scotland' (2006)

The Last King of Scotland"Homeboy wearing blue polyester and bangs in 114-degree heat, and they call me crazy?"
Giles Foden's novel of a Scottish doctor unwittingly pulled into Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's inner circle is successfully reworked for cinema as a cautionary tale of how a libidinous expat lifestyle can leave you with blood on your hands and the job of helping a flatulent Amin (Forest Whitaker) overcome chronic gas with the help of a baseball bat.

Enlightening expat dialog

Nicholas Garrigan: "My name is Nicholas Garrigan, and I'm from Scotland. I need to go home now."

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3. 'The Third Man' (1949)

The Third ManOpportunistic expat scum, granted. On the plus side, always a natty dresser.
Expats don't come colder than Orson Welles' elusive Harry Lime, whose classic cuckoo clock speech justifying his racketeering in bombed-to-bits Vienna sounds suspiciously like the kind of cruel logic deployed by corporate stooges when plundering developing world countries in return for a fat salary. ("Free of income tax, old man.")

If only real life saw these amoral exploiters hounded down, like Lime, in a subterranean sewer. If only real life was soundtracked by zithers.

Enlightening expat dialog

Harry Lime: "Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don't. Why should we?"

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2. 'The Year of Living Dangerously' (1982)

The Year of Living Dangerously Time to renegotiate the expat package.
With its eclectic if somewhat dated soundtrack and expansive mysticism of Linda Hunt's diminutive paparazzo, Dangerously emerges as an anti-expat classic, contrasting the seedy and sequestered lives of foreign hacks and diplomats in Sukarno-era Indonesia against the poverty and chaos of a country on the brink.

All that plus a pre-racist rant Mel Gibson.

Enlightening expat dialog

Billy Kwan: "Jillian is like a wavering flame that needs care to burn high. Without such care she could lapse into the promiscuity and bitterness of the failed romantic."

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1. 'Casablanca' (1942)

CasablancaHow you look just before your insides are kicked out.
The closing scenes may not have the tear-jerking impact they once did, but if there's a film in existence responsible for dampening as much Kleenex as "Casablanca," it's probably porn.

This film portrays expat life as it should be: outwitting mendacious cops and ruthless Nazis in the smoky haze of a North African piano bar while risking everything in the name of un-requitable love. Not playing golf for pity's sake.

Who hasn't imagined themselves plunged into Casablanca's wartime plot of double-dealing and heartbreak?

Perhaps as Humphrey Bogart, at his craggy best as jaded saloon-owner Rick; Ingrid Bergman’s impossibly lovely Isla Lund or even Claude Rains’ complicated French police chief Captain Renault.

Sure the dialog has been quoted to death, and if Sam or anyone else plays "As Time Goes By" again, they're going to get the piano lid slammed on their fingers, but every fresh screening of Casablanca is still like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Oh dear. We said it.

Enlightening expat dialog

Ilsa (on the verge of tears): "I didn't count the days."

Rick: "Well, I did. Every one of 'em. Mostly I remember the last one. The wild finish. A guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look in his face because his insides have been kicked out."

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Barry Neild is a cake-winning freelance journalist based in London. His stories and reports from around the world have been published by some of the planet’s leading newspapers and websites. 

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