With the 79th Venice International Film Festival underway, now seems the perfect time to explore the floating city’s various representations on the silver screen.
Venice is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable cities in the world. Those images of masked balls, decedent carnivals, exquisite churches and candle-lit gondolas are so burnt into our collective psyche that many feel a little underwhelmed when they arrive in ‘Sereninissima’ for the first time, surprised to find the place filled with tacky Murano glass and sad-looking restaurants serving terrible lasagne.
The reality is that most of what we think of when we consider Venice is artificial, a memory of a lost age. Perhaps that’s why the city has been such a sought-after location for directors over the years: it never fails to evoke the faded romance of a golden age long since passed. Though the carnivals may be over and the aristocrats departed, Venice is still filled with artefacts of centuries of artistic innovation.
In this way, Venice is innately cinematic. From the architecture along the Rialto Bridge to the bleached splendour of Piazza San Marco, the city is a gem from tip to tail. For film-buffs, Venice is a big undertaking. Here, we’ve made things a little easier by bringing you a tailor-made guide to some of the most iconic film locations in the city.
A film lover’s guide to Venice:
Campo San Barnaba
Campo San Barnaba, which takes its name from a nearby neoclassical church dedicated to the Apostle Saint Barnabas, is a little square located in Venice’s bustling Dorsoduro sestiere. The deconsecrated church was used in the 1989 Indiana Jones film The Last Crusade to depict the library in which Jones and Elsa Schneider discover the entrance to a set of half-flooded catacombs that house the rat-infested tomb of a First Crusade Knight.
The square also features in the 1955 David Lean film Summertime. Indeed, the church is just a short walk from the Ca’ Rezzonico Vaporetto stop on the Grand Canal. It’s around here that Hepburn’s character stumbles into the water while filming on her 8mm camera, only for the camera to be saved by a small boy. Campo San Barnaba is also within easy walking distance of the stunning University Ca’ Foscari and Palazzo Guistinian.
Piazza San Marco
Yes, I’m afraid so. If it’s film locations you’re after, there’s no way you’re going to avoid the famously tourist-clogged Piazza San Marco. At 590ft tall and 230ft wide, the sculpture-encrusted heart of Venice is easily one of the most jaw-dropping squares in Italy, if not Europe. Indeed, Napolean himself once declared Piazza San Marco “the world’s most beautiful drawing room”, which probably says more about Bonaparte’s lavish tastes than the piazza itself.
Flanked by St Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Museo Correr, the Campanile, and the Torre dell’ Orologio (complete with astrological clock), Piazza San Marco has appeared in a simply dizzying number of films, including Death In Venice, Casanova, The Italian Job, Summertime, The Talented Mr Ripley, Don’t Look Now, Moonraker, Youth, and Everyone Says I Love You. Sure it’s swamped with camera-wielding tourists, but there are few places as romantic or eye-wateringly decedent as Piazza San Marco
By the time you’re done with Piazza San Marco (and I recommend getting out of there sooner rather than later), you’ll be in need of some respite. What better place to slow down than in Venice’s oldest Cafe, the ever-elegant Caffè Florian? Walking around Venice’s touristy hub, it often seems as though every window is filled with delicious Pasticceria just asking to be sampled. This beautiful little spot, formerly a favourite of Proust, serves some of the best and has been doing so since 1720.
The cafe also features in one of the tensest scenes in The Talented Mr Ripley. Having fled Rome, Tom meets with Herbert Greenleaf Sr. and Marge to discuss the whereabouts of Dickie. Director Anthony Minghella takes great pains to paint a sun-dappled portrait of Old World Italy in TTMR, and Caffè Florian really does the job. With its low marble tables, velvet booths and Faberge walls, it’s the kind of watering hole this particular writer would quite happily die in.
Campo de la Pescaria
The 2009 action film The Tourist, starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, showcases some of Venice’s most beautiful and well-known locations, including Piazza San Marco, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, and the Rialto bridge. But if you’re looking for a little local flavour away from the crowds, your best bet is to set off in the direction of Camp de la Pescaria, which features in one of the film’s many chase sequences. It also appears briefly in Woody Allen’s Everybody Says I Love You.
The historical market is comprised of dozens of fish stalls nestled between two neo-Gothic buildings near the Grand Canal. Fishmongers have been selling fresh fish, moscardini (baby octopus), squid and other seafood here for over 700 years. The market is still an essential part of Venetian’s daily life, and you’ll likely come across restaurant owners on the hunt for the best ‘Nostrano’ (locally caught produce), as well as locals picking up something for dinner.
Palazzo Soranzo Van Axel
Wanting to do the legendary seducer’s story justice, Casanova director Lasse Hallström decided to shoot his 2005 film entirely in Giacomo Casanova’s hometown. Of all the stunning locations, perhaps the most opulent is the Palazzo Soranzo Van Axel, a 15th-century palace in the Cannaregio district of Venice. Boasting mosaiced floors, a stunning inner courtyard, and outdoor spiral staircases, it’s easy to see why Hallström thought this particular residence would evoke the sumptuous romance of 18th-century Venice.
The house was built at the tail end of the 15th century. It was around this time that Venice was first feeling the influence of the Rennasiecne. Indeed, the nearby church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, was built just a few years after the Soranzo finished decorating this lavish residence with precious materials, frescoes and bas-reliefs. Today, the palazzo serves as an exhibition space.