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Sunday September 27th 2020

Tenet | 2020

Tenet film location: Eagle Mountain, California
Tenet film location: the 'temporal pincer' attack on the abandoned 'Siberian' city: Eagle Mountain, California | Photograph: Levi Vincent / FilmPalmSprings.com

I tied myself in knots with Inception, so I’ll keep plot to the minimum and do my best to avoid spoilers. Director Christopher Nolan drip feeds information on a strictly need-to-know basis – even the protagonist (John David Washington) is only ever known as The Protagonist, so we have no idea for the reason behind the raid on a concert at ‘Kiev Opera House’ which opens the movie.

A lot of the film, including this sequence, was shot in Tallinn, a port on the Baltic Sea and the capital of Estonia.

Tenet film location: Linnahall, Tallinn
Tenet film location: the attack on 'Kiev Opera House': Linnahall, Tallinn | Photograph: Wikimedia / Guillaume Speurt

The concert hall is Linnahall, Kalasadama 4, a sprawling venue built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics on the coast of Tallinn Bay, back in the days when Estonia was part of the former Soviet Union.

The hall had stood derelict for about 10 years and was in a sorry state of disrepair, with damage to the seats, carpeting and even the structural concrete – not to mention the graffiti.

It was given a thorough renovation for the film, which even included getting the defunct lighting system to work again. It’ll be interesting to see if it gets a new lease of life as a live venue.

Following the raid, the Protagonist (how about we just call him Pro?) finds himself captured and being tortured in the middle of a freight rail yard. Remaining in Tallinn, the railyard is at Telliskivi Creative City, developed in a former industrial complex on the border of Tallinn’s Old Town and the Kalamaja District.

All seems lost, but the suicide pill on which he bites down turns out to be fake and Pro wakes up aboard a ship in the middle of an offshore wind farm to discover that the ordeal has proved his mettle to be recruited for a sensitive and highly secret job.

The turbine is which he's temporarily housed is part of Nysted Wind Farm, close to the Rodsand Sand Bank, south of Lolland, fourth largest of the Danish Islands, in the Baltic Sea.

He's eventually picked up and put ashore in 'Denmark' – actually Muuga Harbour, east of Tallinn.

From here, Pro is whisked away by car to the 'Wermuth-Bygningen Building', where he's introduced to the brain-twisting concept of 'time reversed' bullets by scientist Barbara (Clémence Poésy). Although the wind farm was in Denmark, this is Tallinn. The institute was Liivalaia Courthouse, Liivalaia 24, in the Veerenni district, south of the city centre. Although it only opened in 1987, the court moved out in 2018 and the building is currently disused.

Tenet film location: Liivalaia Courthouse, Tallinn
Tenet film location: The Protagonist learns about the 'reversed' bullets: Liivalaia Courthouse, Tallinn | Photograph: Wikimedia / Avjoska

Pro's mission is to discover the origin of these strange bullets, the very existence of which has terrifying ramifications.

The metallic composition of the bullets suggests India, which points to a notorious arms dealer in Mumbai. Arriving in the city, Pro calls up his local contact from outside Cafe Mondegar, Metro House, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, on Colaba Causeway.

This fascinating Mumbai institution was opened as a cafe by Iranian Zoroastrians in 1932. In the Fifties, it became the first place Mumbai to get a jukebox and nowadays is famous for its retro vibe and its murals by cartoonist Mario Miranda. Obviously a place not to be missed if you’re visiting Mumbai.

He meets up with his rather louche contact, Neil (Robert Pattinson), in the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, a private club at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Marg, near the famous Gateway of India, Colaba. Opened in 1881, it’s a remnant of the British Raj and, astonishingly, it wasn't until 1958 that Indians were admitted. The club remains members-only.

Ingenuity is required to get into the impregnable penthouse of the dealer, Priya (Dimple Kapadia), which is atop Neelam Shree Vardhan Tower on Bhulabhai Desai Road (formerly the old Warden Road) in Oomer Park, in an area called Breach Candy – a newly-developed up-market residential and commercial locality in South Mumbai.

It turns out the bullets were 'reversed' only after they had ended up in the hands of a powerful Russian oligarch called Sator, who can somehow connect with the future.

Needing to get to Sator, Pro turns to British Intelligence, meeting agent Crosby (Michael Caine) in a posh gentleman’s club in London. This is our old friend, the Reform Club, 104 Pall Mall, Westminster, London SW1 – and for once we even get a brief glimpse of the exterior.

Tenet film location: Reform Club, Pall Mall, London SW1
Tenet film location: the Protagonist meets with Sir Michael Crosby: Reform Club, Pall Mall, London SW1 | Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo / Timeline Images

The Reform, another private club, not open to the public, has featured in two Bond movies – Die Another Day (as ‘Blades’ club) and Quantum of Solace (as a government office). It’s also seen in 2014’s Paddington, Guy Ritchie’s 2009 revamp of Sherlock Holmes, as the lobby of the 'Dolphin Hotel, New York' in the 2007 film of Stephen King's 1408, the 2001 remake of The Four Feathers with Heath Ledger, the 1998 big screen version of TV's The Avengers, Lindsay Anderson’s anarchic O Lucky Man! and Roger Donaldson’s The Bounty.

Here, Crosby reveals that Sator (Kenneth Branagh) can be approached through his partner Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) over some business regarding a forged Goya at ‘Shipley’s Auction House’ – which turns out to be another regular London location.

Tenet film location: National Liberal Club, Whitehall Court, London SW1
Tenet film location: The Protagonist meets Kat at 'Shipley's Auction House': National Liberal Club, Whitehall Court, London SW1

The ‘auction house’ is yet another members' club, the National Liberal Club, 1 Whitehall Court, previously seen in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Danny Boyle’s Trance among other productions. It also supplied the exterior of the London entrance to the 'Sanctum Sanctorum' in 2016’s Doctor Strange.

Tenet film location: Cannon Hall, Cannon Place, Hampstead, London NW3
Tenet film location: Kat meets max outside his school: Cannon Hall, Cannon Place, Hampstead, London NW3

'Cannon Hall School', where Pro scopes out Kat as she meets her son Max, has its own fascinating history. It's not a school – but it is Cannon Hall, 14 Cannon Place at Squire’s Mount, tucked away off East Heath Road, in leafy Hampstead NW3.

The mansion was once the home of actor-manager Gerald du Maurier – father of Daphne du Maurier, author of Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, The Birds and Don’t Look Now. It previously appeared on-screen as the home of Keir Dullea in Otto Preminger’s 1965 underrated dark comedy-thriller Bunny Lake Is Missing.

Tenet film location: Locanda Locatelli, Seymour Street, London W1
Tenet film location: Pro fights off Sator's men in the restaurant kitchen: Locanda Locatelli, Seymour Street, London W1

The smart restaurant in which Pro gets to meet Sator, and ends up making good use of a cheese grater as he fends off his goons in the kitchen, is Locanda Locatelli8 Seymour Street, W1, just a block north of Marble Arch in London's West End.

Kat is driven away from the kitchen's entrance on Berkeley Mews as the Protagonist emerges victorious.

The upscale Italian eatery was previously featured in Woody Allen's 2005 London based drama Match Point.

Tenet film location: Berkeley Mews, London W1
Tenet film location: Pro emerges victorious from the restaurant kitchen: Berkeley Mews, London W1

Pro believes he can break Sator's hold over Kat by getting rid of the disputed Goya, which is stored in a preposterously well-protected storage facility in Oslo, Norway.

Tenet film location: Kumu Art Museum, Weizenbergi, Tallinn
Tenet film location: Neil is given a tour of the 'Oslo Freeport' facility: Kumu Art Museum, Weizenbergi, Tallinn | Photograph: Shutterstock / Uskarp

When Neil bullshits his way into being given a tour of the ‘Oslo Freeport’ facility, its lobby turns out to be the Kumu Art Museum, A. Weizenbergi 34 at Valge, in Kadriorg Park back in Tallinn.

Surprisingly, since the production seems to be based in Europe, ‘Oslo Airport’, where Neil passes his info to Pro turns out to be the Connector between the International Terminal and Terminal 4 of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), 1 World Way, Los Angeles. Perhaps there's more of California to come?

Tenet film location: Oslo Opera House, Kirsten Flagstads Plass, Oslo
Tenet film location: the Protagonist discusses the mission with Neil: Oslo Opera House, Kirsten Flagstads Plass, Oslo | Photograph: Shutterstock / Olga Gavrilova

We're soon, though, onto the real Oslo. The vast, white expanse of marble and granite where Pro explains to Neil the enormity of their undertaking is the roof of Oslo Opera House, Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1, in the Bjørvika neighbourhood of central Oslo. Yes, the roof is accessible – it slopes gently up from ground level, creating a large plaza from which you too can enjoy panoramic views of the city.

Tenet film location: Tjuvholmen allé, Tjuvholmen, Oslo
Tenet film location: the Protagonist and Neil meet up with Mahir: Tjuvholmen allé, Tjuvholmen, Oslo | Photograph / Google Maps

Staying in Norway, Pro and Neil float the extreme notion of crashing a 747 into the Freeport with Mahir (Himesh Patel) as the meet up at Tjuvholmen allé, in Tjuvholmen, an artsy neighborhood of Oslo recently developed from dry docks housed on a peninsula jutting out from Aker Brygge into the Oslofjord.

Once a haven for smugglers and thieves, Tjuvholmen roughly translates as ‘thief islet’ and the waterfront hotel where the three formulate their ambitious plan is The Thief Hotel, Salmakersvenn Marius Jantzens plass 3, a smart boutique hotel opened in 2015.

The spectacular 747 crash itself was filmed in California. As we all now know, rather than use CGI or models, the sequence was staged for real with a decommissioned 747. The location is Southern California Logistics Airport, 18374 Phantom Way, in Victorville, in the High Desert about 85 miles northeast of LA.

It happens that SCLA is home to a 240-acre 'boneyard' storage facility, with enough space to store more than 500 disused planes. It currently has about 275 in storage, so it's a good place to rent a spare. The dry desert environment is perfect for the long-term preservation of aircraft, but slightly more problematic to pass off as Oslo in the long shots.

Like the Tallinn concert house, the 747 had to be restored before it could be destroyed. The plane couldn’t move under its own power and had to be towed, but the brakes and steering still needed to be in full working order. The sheer weight and physical presence of the jumbo jet more than justifies the gamble.

The airport has previously been seen in Face/Off, Jarhead and The Sum of All Fears among other productions. There are no organised tours but, if you're fascinated by planes, you can drive through some of the streets and roads at SCLA, though most business and industry areas are restricted.

The debriefing for Pro and Neil following the fight at the Freeport is Estonia again, in the Hilton Tallinn Park, Fr R. Kreutzwaldi 23, on the eastern side of the quiet, and recently renovated, Politseiaed Park.

And then it's briefly back to Mumbai, where Priya breaks to Pro the unwelcome news that Sator must not be killed, as they stroll by the Gateway of India, south of the city toward Colaba.

Another throwback to the days of Empire, now a major tourist attraction, the ceremonial gate was built to commemorate the 1911 visit of King George V, the first British monarch to set foot in India.

By now, we're happy to accept that the breathtaking terrace atop a vertiginous cliff where The Protagonist meets with Kat is real – and it is.

Tenet film location: Villa Cimbrone, Ravello, Amalfi Coast, Italy
Tenet film location: the Protagonist meets with Kat: Villa Cimbrone, Ravello, Amalfi Coast, Italy | Photograph: Shutterstock / Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH

This is the Infinity Terrace at the Villa Cimbrone, Via Santa Chiara, 26 in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, south of Naples in Italy.

You might have seen the same terrace appearing as the 'Themyscira' in Patty Jenkins' 2017 Wonder Woman, but fans of older movies will recognise it as Humphrey Bogart's villa in John Huston's 1953 Beat The Devil.

We stay in Ravello as Pro gets to meet the terrifying Sator over a terribly civilised dinner at the terrace of the five-star Belmond Hotel Caruso, Piazza San Givanni del Toro.

Sator’s luxury yacht, aboard which he spends most of his time, is the Planet Nine, and it is a for-real super-yacht, measuring over 240 feet long with six decks. It does have its own helicopter pad, though not one which could have accommodated the ‘copter seen in the film (an expert pilot was needed to hover very slightly above the pad to give the illusion of having touched down).

Tenet film location: Amalfi Coast, Italy
Tenet film location: Sator moors off the coast of Amalfi: Amalfi Coast, Italy | Photograph: Shutterstock / Boris-B

The race between F50 foiling catamarans, when Pro unexpectedly saves the life of Sator, is another sequence which could have been faked with digital effects but was staged for real.

The coastal town seen is Amalfi itself, but notice how the picturesque seafront and mountains suddenly disappear once the race gets underway. The boats were handled by the UK SailGP team, who happened to be just off the coast of Southampton, Hampshire in southern England.

Having made a deal with Sator, Pro walks with Neil along Pärnu maantee (Parnu Highway) by Argentiina Restaurant at Haridue, in Tallinn, as they plan a spectacular robbery to lift plutonium from an armoured truck in the centre of the city.

Tenet film location: Laagna Tee, Tallinn
Tenet film location: the plutonium heist and the car flip: Laagna Tee at Saarepiiga sild, Tallinn | Photograph / Google Maps

And Pärnu maantee is where the spectacular set-piece heist begins, with Pro and Neil following in a car south as the targetted truck is gradually boxed in. The eye-popping fireworks really start as the chase continues along Laagna Tee, the main highway running east from Tallinn city centre to the Lasnamäe district, and time reversal comes into play.

The bridge across Laagna Tee with the two stairways, where the car flips over, is Saarepiiga sild (Island Bridge).

After all the chaos, Pro and Kat are bundled off to the 'Tallinn Freeport', where Sator has another of his storage facilities and another of his 'time reversing' turnstiles. The 'Freeport' is Port Paljassaare, northwest of Tallinn, but the interior is the industrial building at Suur-Paala 13, in Ülemiste, to the east of the city.

As Sator races off to find his missing 'plutonium', Pro has another chat with Priya. Supposedly in 'Oslo', the park where they walk is Maarjamäe World War Two Memorial, Pirita Tee 74, a couple of miles northeast of central Tallinn. It's a memorial to the victims of the Soviet regime.

Tenet film location: Maarjamäe World War Two Memorial, Pirita Tee, Tallinn
Tenet film location: the Protagonist meets again with Priya: Maarjamäe World War Two Memorial, Pirita Tee, Tallinn | Photograph: Shutterstock / KKulikov

Priya gives up one more piece of vital info which leads Pro, Neil and others to the climactic ‘temporal pincer’ attack on the abandoned city of 'Stalask 12' in ’Siberia'.

This was filmed on three separate locations. The exterior is Eagle Mountain in California, a modern-day ghost town in the desert on the southeastern corner of Joshua Tree National Park, about 180 miles east of LA.

Founded in 1948 by industrialist Henry J Kaiser around the now-defunct Eagle Mountain iron mine, the town's population dwindled in the Eighties after the mine closed.

The avenue of huge square concrete 'arches' is real, but a number of full-size buildings were constructed along with large-scale models built in forced perspective to make the already immense set seem even larger.

Interiors were filmed on Stage 16 at Warner Bros, famous for its enormous tank, which allows extra height to sets which can be built up from 20 feet below floor level.

The third location was the abandoned mall in the city of Hawthorne, in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, where the largest of those ‘turnstiles’ was built, blending in with the mall’s brutalist concrete architecture.

Hawthorne Plaza Mall, on Hawthorne Boulevard at 120th Street, closed in 1999 but was briefly brought back to life for Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report in 2002. It was returned to its decrepit state for David Fincher's Gone Girl. Its shell became the 'Tokyo' garage where the kids hang out in The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, and more recently its rear was used for the road chase for DC’s Birds of Prey.

Sator and Kat's brief but crucial idyll aboard the yacht off the coast of 'Vietnam' was filmed off Bella Baia Beach at Maiori, east of Amalfi.


• Many thanks to Michael Schaeffer for enormous help with this section.