Sunday, December 23, 2018
A Seasonal Chill--and A Forgotten Cinematic Evocation of Venice in Winter
I was admiring the lighted balcony of a palazzo and its reflection in Rio San Servero last night, not a soul in sight, when the red coated figure in the image above appeared on the bridge of Calle di Mezzo, just down the canal from Palazzo Grimani (its lighted windows and Italian flag visible in the background). Those familiar with Nicolas Roeg's unsettling Venice 1973 film Don't Look Now, in whose climax this same calle and palazzo figure prominently, will not be surprised to learn that I made sure not to follow her.
For those who haven't watched the film--well, in spite of the central role played by a red cloak in the plot, it's not a Christmas movie, but worth watching anyway for its setting of a grimy workaday Venice that's markedly different from the spiffy one we're used to today.
Another less-known film from the same era, which shows even more of the still-living city than Roeg's, is the 1970 melodrama Anonimo Veneziano (The Anonymous Venetian), directed by Enrico Maria Salerno. It's not a great, nor even a good movie: it's maudlin in the same way that I imagine another film released in 1970 must be: Love Story.
But the real love story in Anonimo Veneziano takes place between the film's cinematographer and the city itself. Like Roeg's film, this one is also a winter's tale, set in the off-season Venice of Venetians (back in the day when there still was one and still were some, respectively) and the unhappy pair of lovers go everywhere in the city, and in every possible way: on foot, on vaporetto, traghetto, and in gondola.
You don't need to know a word of Italian to watch this film, as it's not the words that make it worth watching. The two leads are photogenic and may even be fine actors (I didn't notice), and they certainly model the era's fashions marvelously, but their real function is to serve as what Michelangelo Antonioni called "moving space."* That is--in a reversal of the usual relationship between a film's stars and its setting--to occupy the foreground in a way that sets off the background to its best advantage.
For any lover of Venice I'm tempted to say this film, unremarkable as it may be as a film, is something of a must-see (though I've never seen it included in any list of Venice films to watch). And those who have access to RAI Play online** can watch it for free: https://www.raiplay.it/video/2017/11/Anonimo-Veneziano-cc2fb89f-6184-4786-90f6-70389e00fada.html
(A google search turned up an informative Youtube video of some of the locations of the film. Though, as there's a certain pleasure in trying to recognize the many locations--both exterior and interior--as one watches the film, to watch this 8 minute video before watching the film may be like looking at the answers to a crossword puzzle in advance of doing it.)
*According to Jack Nicholson, who starred in Antonioni's 1975 film The Passenger, Antonioni responded to the actor's questions about his own performance by assuring him that it was fine, before admitting that "for me, the actor is a moving space."
**In Italy one can sign up for RAI Play free of charge, gaining access to a vast array of streaming programs and films. I don't, however, know of its availability in other countries.