This September, film stars, directors, and lovers alike will safely congregate once again for the annual 77th Venice International Film Festival. Despite Venice being hit hard by cases during the initial peak of the virus, the world’s oldest film festival has been given the green light to go ahead. With Cannes taken out of the running, it’s the first out of the “Big Five” to return after lockdown.
From 2-12 September, the 77th edition will be unique in a number of ways: safety protocols and social distancing measures will apply, as will the reduced number of guests, and some aspects of the festival will move online. Two Italian films (Molecole and Lacci) will also open up the film festival for the first time in over a decade.
Avid Hollywood movie fans can also anticipate several household names during these ten days; Frances McDormand, Shia LaBeouf and Helen Mirren will make their appearance on the big screen; Cate Blanchett meanwhile will preside over the competition as jury president; Tilda Swinton will also be receiving the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.
Clearly, guests are spoiled for entertainment at this year’s film festival in spite of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, let us cover the bases with where you should stay, drink and dine while you’re in The Floating City.
Where To Stay
The Gritti Palace – San Marco
A 15th century palazzo, this sumptuous yet small hotel will make you feel like nobility. Overlooking the Grand Canal, guests can wake up in the morning with a view of the illustrious church and dome that presides over the lagoon, the Santa Maria della Salute. Although its small quarters might be an adjustment for some, the silver lining is that those in service will have more time to meet guests’ needs.
Antiques and frescoes completely dominate the interiors, as does the objets d’art and magnificent Rubelli fabrics that adorn the furniture and walls. Around The Gritti Palace, luxury boutiques surround it, as well as the Guggenheim Gallery that’s only ten minutes away. It’s also easy for visitors to travel via the canals, due to the hotel’s private jetty convenient for water taxi transport.
Hotel Danieli – Castello
If this hotel sounds familiar to you, you have probably seen it in the movie The Tourist (the above picture of Angelina is a still from the film). While Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie are no longer there unfortunately, visitors can still find a top-of-the-notch stay at this hotel that presides over the waterfront. Comprised of three linked palaces, including the 14th-century Palazzo Dandolo, the Danieli Excelsior and Casa Nuova buildings are its more modern counterparts. St. Mark’s Square and the Bridge of Sighs are just a stone’s throw away, so it’s perfect for those looking to get some sightseeing in and kill some time during the film festival’s reduced schedule.
Murano glass chandeliers, rich damask curtains, embellished mirrors, as well as a rich collection of precious art that evokes early modern aristocratic living decorate the interiors. And for those looking to fully immerse themselves in the film festival experience, many important individuals of cinema, opera, and royalty have stayed at the Dandolo Suite Collection.
Belmond Hotel Cipriani – Giudecca
Further away from the hubbub of the centre is this resort-like hotel, at the eastern end of Giudecca. Catered towards those who are looking for a more peaceful, relaxing stay away from the boisterous, sometimes cramped atmosphere of the city, this hotel comes with well-kept gardens, a luxury spa, as well as an Olympic-sized pool.
All 96 rooms are decorated with Murano glass, Venetian-style furnishings and antiques, as well as artwork that feature images of its picturesque lagoon (should you happen to forget what it looks like). They also come with its own private Juliette balcony, providing ideal views of the lagoon where guests can spot St. Mark’s Square.
Although on another island, the main city can still be reached easily within five minutes. The Belmond also has on-site chic boutiques, as well as a wellness centre, and copious bars and Michelin-starred restaurants for guests wanting to dine a little closer to the hotel.
Palazzo Venart Luxury Hotel – Santa Croce
A Leading Hotels of the World member, this formerly aristocratic residence has only been running for four years, and yet provides that five-star experience. The Palazzo Venart has less than 20 rooms and suites, but each is decorated distinctly with an aspect of the history and culture that has made this floating city so famous.
Before entering the hotel, guests will stroll their way through a manicured garden that provides as the only buffer between the hotel and the Grand Canal. This 16th-century palazzo and grounds has been carefully restored, still preserving its original features that will bring any history or architecture fanatic joy. Venetian specialists have especially taken part in restoring Renaissance frescoes and marble fireplaces.
Guests who don’t feel like venturing out for dinner will be pleased to find that the hotel also houses the two Michelin-starred GLAM Restaurant.
The St. Regis Venice – San Marco
With 130 guestrooms and 39 suites that run over five palaces, one dating back to the 17th century, what once used to be the Grand Hotel Britannia is now another addition to the prominent luxury hotel chain, the St. Regis. Interestingly, this hotel has taken a different approach to this millennia-old city by combining innovative architecture with contemporary interiors. For Impressionist art lovers, the rooms’ colour palette was inspired by Claude Monet’s Venetian paintings, and even stayed at the hotel’s previous owner.
The Grand Canal is still over your shoulder, however, for those who don’t want to miss out on the cultural and historic aspect of their visit, and the hotel even proudly boasts of having the largest access to the waterfront.
Guests here will find restaurants and bars at the hotel, as well as a spa and exercise room. The St. Regis is also completely surrounded by luxury boutiques, contemporary art galleries, and St. Mark’s Square is just a four minute walk away, which will come in handy when beating out the crowds of tourists later in the day.
What To Watch
The 77th edition will only showcase sixty films for its official selection, as opposed to the eighty that were shown last year. Although Hollywood’s contributions are notably slimmed down, films from more than fifty countries will be shown this time around, and out of the eighteen movies contending for the festival’s coveted award, eight are directed by women.
Here are just some of the films being considered for the Golden Lion:
Nomadland (directed by Chloé Zhao)
Frances McDormand produces and stars in this film, playing a woman who lives as a nomad, as the title suggests, after the Great Recession of 2008. Slated to be the most prized of this year’s film festival, Fern (McDormand) decides to embark on this journey across the wild, wild West. It is based on the non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder, that is very telling of “the dark underbelly of the American economy – one that foreshadows the precarious future that may await many more of us.”
The World to Come (directed by Mona Fastvold)
The World to Come is an upcoming drama film that centres around the love between two farmers’ wives in 19th-century America. Starring Vanessa Kirby, Katherine Waterston and Casey Affleck, this film, based on a short story of Jim Shepard’s who also wrote the film’s screenplay, explores the dynamics of the two women’s relationship amid hardship and isolation on the frontier. For American history lovers and LGBTQ members, this sounds promising.
Pieces of a Woman (directed by Kornél Mundruczó)
Vanessa Kirby has also been busy with another project, this time a dark family drama of which she’s accompanied for the second time by Shia LaBeouf. What Pieces of a Woman entails is the tenuous relationship between a grieving husband and wife after a home birth ends up in tragedy, and thrown into the mix is also the latter’s estranged mother. We can already predict the turbulent path this movie will take us down.
Although these films are out of the running, that doesn’t mean they should receive any less attention:
Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams (directed by Luca Guadagnino)
Calling Italian shoe lovers! The Call Me By Your Name director has brought forth this documentary about the life of famous shoe designer, and founder of luxury goods brand Salvatore Ferragamo. We can assume this film depicts how he became successful in the 1930s, often experimenting with different materials that no one had previously done before (from kangaroo to fish skin), to be later known as one of the most innovative shoe designers of the 20th century.
For those who don’t know, Ferragamo was the one who pioneered the cork wedge, so we can probably expect for this important invention to come up in the documentary.
Greta (directed by Nathan Grossman)
Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg is the subject of another documentary, this time commissioned by Hulu. Although we don’t know much about the premise of the documentary, viewers can probably guess that it’s about the teenager’s outspoken environmentalism, and the influence that she now wields around the world in leading her generation in the battle against climate change, big corporations, and powerful governments.
The Duke (directed by Roger Michell)
From Notting Hill director comes this true story about the stolen portrait of the Duke of Wellington, which took place at London’s National Gallery in 1961. Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, and Matthew Goode star in this anticipated comedy-drama film, which somehow manages to be an uplifting story about how a taxi driver tries to save his marriage and change the world. The Duke will definitely provide respite from the drama-filled competition category.
Where to Drink & Dine
Harry’s Bar is just like it sounds: casual yet quintessential in its relaxed, inviting atmosphere that makes you feel right at home among all walks of life. A 1930s establishment declared as a national landmark seventy one years later, this charming bar is known for inventing the famous drink, the Bellini. With its mahogany wood, warm, golden lighting, it’s been made to look exactly like a typical European café. That Katherine Hepburn, Ernest Hemingway, and many other famed individuals have frequented this bar all the more evokes this 20th-century feeling. If you like to stay safe with your poison, this is the right place for you as you’ll find many classic cocktails here.
Observing St. Mark’s Square is this magnificent, elegant fine-dining restaurant that usually attracts high-end crowds, and as you can see, has front-row seats to the piazza. Ideal for couples, it has this cocooned, intimate vibe that allows you to take in the sights around you, as well as the delicious Venetian and Italian cuisine.
On Torcello, a historic island half an hour away from the city, sits this family-run restaurant that concentrates on rustic, traditional cuisine. With three indoor rining rooms, an outdoor terrace and a large, beautiful flora and fauna garden, it brings to life this fantasy of merchant Venice. From 1938, it has amassed an attractive clientele: Ernest Hemingway, Paul Newman, and Queen Elizabeth II, making it one of the restaurants guests absolutely have to visit.
Near Rialto Bridge, you can find one of the city’s oldest trattorias that provides an authentic menu of traditional cuisine – featuring freshly caught fish, and handmade biscuits. Although the atmosphere is simple, the food and location is clearly good enough for many important guests to dine here, including Yoko Ono, Ian McKellen, and Natalie Portman, for those who want to dine like the stars.