5 years, 6 months ago
How do you like your film festivals? A-list, kissy faced, couture and wannabes jockeying for jobs (any jobs) in Cannes? Cool, wintery, knowingy and achingly independent at Sundance? The officianado, Oscar hopeful, moneyed Toronto? The uber-elite Telluride? Or the still sunny in September and a good chance of surf in San Sebastian? And that’s before we’ve even mentioned Berlin, Tribeca, Edinburgh, SXSW et al.
This year we like the Venice Film Festival from 28th August to 7th September. It’s the world’s oldest film festival and while it might not be the one to choose if you’re looking to get a distribution deal or a good showing at next year’s Academy Awards, big Venice gongs in the past have gone to Bunuel, Tarkovsky, Altman, Aranofsky, Zhang Yimou, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Thomas Anderson and Wim Wenders. The Venice Film Festival pulls major players, big movies and actors and auteurs who like to be taken seriously. Its ‘Orizzonti Selection’ is a respected guide to what’s currently trending in World Cinema. And the entire festival is based in Venice – sorry Toronto, that beats skyscrapers hands down.
Well, to be honest the Venice Film Festival isn’t strictly in ‘Venice’, it’s on The Lido; the beachy island that lies between The Lagoon and the Adriatic, protects the city and is (and always has been) home to the elite, the bohemian, the artistic, the literary and the well-cashed-up. The Lido is known for its beautiful homes, smart shops and restaurants and, since it’s been in so many movies itself, has probably more right than most to host an international film festival.
Thomas Mann wrote ‘Death in Venice’ on The Lido so it’s no surprise that Visconti’s 1971 film of the book was also made here. There’s the final long, lingering shot of lifeless Von Aschenbach in his solitary deckchair all dripping black hair dye and carmine lips. And who could forget the oddly sailor suited Tadzio plinkety plinking away at ‘Für Elise’ (brief respite from the Mahler)? But for us the show stopper will always be The Grand Hotel des Bains on The Lido’s east shore. Okay death and pestilence were sweeping in, but heck, what a place to pass those final days!
The Grand Hotel des Bains is just as aristocratically magnificent in real life and if you’re cycling round The Lido – as you should – it’s worth a stop. NB. don’t let anyone, at any film festival, anywhere hear you using the expression ‘in real life’. The hotel was also seen in Anthony Minghella’s 1996 ‘The English Patient’.
Which tidily and cinematically takes us across Venice Lagoon by vaporetto to Venice itself and Anthony Minghella’s 1999 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’.
The movie was shot in New York, Naples and Rome, but the memorable (almost) denouement of Tom Ripley is filmed in Venice. When Dickie Greenleaf’s longsuffering fiancée, Marge, finally reveals her suspicions about his disappearance and Ripley’s hand in it, she’s sitting at the iconic Café Florian on Piazza San Marco.
But Venice has a history of cinematic connections that’s almost as old and illustrious as its Film Festival.
Back in the day – when a Bond movie’s entire budget wouldn’t cover the cost of a Martini – ‘From Russia With Love’ had to mainly make do with Pinewood Studios hence the back projected closing shot of Venice’s Bridge of Sighs behind ‘Bond-being-Bond-with-his-Bond-Girl’ in a Gondola.
Fast forward 43 years to 2006 for ‘Casino Royale’ and it’s a totally different story. Venice may not always be what it seems (sometimes it’s Prague), but when the city’s present, it’s present and correct. We might be prepared to accept Daniel Craig as a sophisticated, deadly, international spy but it’s stretching it too far to fake Venice’s Canal Grande. Seen twice in ‘Casino Royale’, the Canal Grande doesn’t take kindly to you sailing up in a yacht as Bond and Vesper did, but visit the renowned Rialto Vegetable Market and you can look across the city’s most famous waterway to the Piazzo which was spectacularly detonated in the movie. Miraculously, it’s still intact.
credit: Gwenaël Piaser
Venice’s Palazzo and Basilica San Marco with views over the Lagoon has to be one of the most recognisable establishing shots in the world – even overused Prague can’t stand in for it. But step away from the pigeons and the crowds and Dorsoduro district round about might also ring the odd cinematic bell. The Church of San Barnaba, Campo Barnaba was home to one of Indie’s clues in Stephen Spielberg’s 1989 ‘Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade’. Katherine Hepburn fell into the canal here in David Lean’s 1955 ‘Summer Madness’. And Woody Allen as Joe, stayed in the Hotel Gritti Palace (where else?), Campo Santa Maria del Giglio in his 1996 ‘Everyone Says I Love You’.
And so back across the lagoon to The Lido (don’t catch the ‘residents’ only’ vaporetto by mistake, they don’t like it) for the 70th Venice Film Festival (August 28th to September 7th). We hope you enjoyed our mini-tribute to the city of its birth and would just like to draw your attention to the fact that we managed the whole thing without mentioning Nic Roeg’s 1973 ‘Don’t Look Now’. So we’ll leave you with that closing shot of Venice; romantic, doomed, broodingly sinister and almost impossibly cinematic. That’s a wrap!
Featured image by Scott Ingram Photography