Oi Polloi

Films and Things: At the Beach

Published: Fri Sep 14 2018

While summer is well and truly ‘in the coffin’ for most of us, a lucky few are still off gallivanting about the globe, chasing the final remnants of sunshine and summer.

So, to ease the pain of transition from sumptuous sun to rancid rain for the unwashed masses, I’ve complied a list of some of the best films that take place in and around beachy locales, offering a sort-of virtual filmic holiday for us brass monkeys unfortunately now stuck in England to suffer through the winter months.

Without further ado…


Arguably the ultimate 'beach film' (is there such a genre? Have I just made it up?), first up we've got Roy Scheider in Steven Spielberg's Jaws.

If you've somehow managed to get this far through life without seeing it, Jaws is the story of a giant, man-eating great white shark, which snacks on a sleepy New England town's beachgoers, and the local police chief (Roy Scheider), who attempts to stop 'ol sharkey from turning people into mince meat.

Alongside Star Wars, Jaws is widely considered to be the prototypical 'summer blockbuster', as well as a watershed moment in the history of the multiplex. You see, Jaws was pivotal in establishing the current (and now somewhat stale) Hollywood business model, which focusses on making as much wonga as possible from simple, high-concept, action-and-adventure movies, that are released during the summer months in theatres around the globe, supported by heavy advertising, merchandising, and other assorted gimmicks.

But, as much as Jaws is responsible for the endless stream of superhero trite and the 73rd Fast and Furious movie, it still remains an outstanding achievement in the history of cinema, thanks to its slick, Hitchcock-esque directing, ominous score, and one of the most terrifying beach sequences ever put to celluloid.


We're taking a trip to the coasts of Brittany now, with French maestro Éric Rohmer and his underappreciated gem A Summer's Tale.

The third part in Rohmer's Tales of the Four Seasons series, A Summer's Tale charts the summer vacation of Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud), a despondent geezer who claims nothing ever happens in his life. On his jollies, he becomes romantically involved with a triptych of young women, each of whom become increasing less patient with his indecision. As you can probably deduce from that synopsis, it's very very French.

Éric Rohmer is the don dada responsible for pioneering a small sub-genre of European cinema that's often dubbed as 'Beautiful Continental Folk Lounging on Mediterranean Beaches Debating the Intricate Philosophies of Love and Attraction'... or something like that.

Even a brief spool through Rohmer's filmography will show how infatuated the man was with beaches. Pauline at the Beach, The Green Ray, and The Collector all take place in and around picturesque seaside resorts. Hell, even his film A Winter's Tale features a sequence on a beach.

Not sure how his affinity for sandy havens relates to the thematic elements of Rohmer's cinema, but whatever – I thought it was an interesting motif to point out.


Next up, we’re heading to the coasts of Brazil, courtsey of Fernando Meirelles’ crime masterpiece City of God.

Loosely based on real events, City of God depicts the rapid growth of organized crime in the Rio de Janeiro favela Cidade de Deus (City of God), between the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 80s, focussing on Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), a budding photographer who’s desperate to escape life in the slum.

Without trying to sound too much like a snobby ‘film guy’, I think City of God is exemplary in its use of a beachy location for poetic symbolism, and not for picturesque, surface-level cinematography.

The beach in the film gives the kids a chance to escape, if only momentarily, from their harsh living conditions, and supplies them with fleeting opportunities to actually engage in the kinds of activities kids the world over are normally found doing (flirting, playing sport, smoking illegal substances etc.), before they eventually have to go back home, avoiding ballets of bullets on their way.

That might sound like nonsense to some, and if it does, I apologise. Three years studying film are guranteed to teach a man how to waffle if nothing else…



Jetting off to the sunny shores of Los Angeles now with Paul Thomas Anderson’s critically misunderstood tour-de-force Inherent Vice.

Based on Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name, Inherent Vice follows Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), stoner-cum-private dick extraordinaire, who becomes embroiled in the LA criminal underworld while investigating three cases interrelated by the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston).

The use of Manhattan beach is pretty interesting in relation to Inherent Vice’s author, the ever-so elusive Thomas Pynchon. Although Pynchon has purposefully avoided publicity throughout his long career, it’s been reported that he once lived around Manhattan Beach in the late 60s and 70s.

This seaside zone turns up frequently throughout Pynchon’s work, titled as ‘Gordita Beach’ instead of Manhattan beach, which, in Inherent Vice, he portrays as a bit of a hippie paradise – a place where the counterculture dreams of the late 60s were still alive and kicking.

And according to cast member Josh Brolin, the beach isn’t the only bit of the reclusive author that shows up in the film: Brolin revealed that Pynchon himself actually has a cameo in the film, which would mark the first time Pynchon has been willingly photographed since the late 1950s.

Which is sort-of redundant if you think about it, considering no one knows what the geezer looks like, thus making it highly impossible to point him out.
Still… an interesting morsel of knowledge to feast on there.

And, if you’re not fussed about beaches or cameos by elusive authors, Inherent Vice is worth watching alone for it’s absolutely spot-on clobber. Fans of stoner-chic and tasteful military jackets should be in awe of this one.


Finally, we're heading to the shores of Miami with one of my personal favourite films of recent years - Barry Jenkins' Oscar-winning master-work Moonlight.

Moonlight tells the heart-wrenching tale of Chiron through three key moments in his life; his childhood search for a father figure, his tempestuous and harsh adolescence, and his early adult life as a traumatised and emotionally-stunted drug dealer. The film deftly explores his various difficulties with his sexuality and identity, including the physical and emotional abuse he endures throughout his life.

Yeah, not exactly a guffaw-a-minute laugh-a-thon, but don't let all that assorted anguish put you off – it's still a proper mint film.

If you'll allow it, let me just pop my 'pretentious film guy' beret back on for just a moment to waffle about how director Barry Jenkins uses the beach as a place of liberation throughout Moonlight.

Again, that might sound daft, but plenty of the film's most pivotal moments happen when the characters are surrounded by sea and sand. Chiron (Alex Hibbert) is taught by drug-dealer Juan to swim there as a child, which is presented as one of the few, fleeting moments where he feels as if he has a father figure. Later in the film, when he's a teenager, Chiron experiences his first sexual encounter with schoolfriend Kevin, which is important because... well, you can probably guess why that'd have a big impact on him.

I won't bore you too much with why beaches are perfect areas for moments of contemplation and whatnot, as it's pretty obvious. Sand... sea.... ice creams... where else could be a better place for considering your identity and existence?


Well, there you have it: some beaches, some films. Hope this has made looking out the window to that bitterly grey overcast sky a little easier, and if it hasn't, at least you've got a handful of locations to wistfully daydream of next time you're trapped in a central heating-less office or getting drenched on your way to Tesco.