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A Venetian on Venice in “The Tourist”

A Venetian on Venice in “The Tourist” (photo)

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Alberto Zambenedetti is a film scholar and a critic originally from Venice, Italy. He has published many articles and book chapters on Italian cinema and writes regularly on spietati.it. Alberto and I went to see the new spy thriller “The Tourist” starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, which is set in Venice, and afterwards we had a conversation about the film’s depiction of his hometown.

Matt Singer: Putting aside your feelings about the movie as a whole, how did you feel about the portrayal of Venice?

Alberto Zambenedetti: It was a missed opportunity. The way the movie used the geography of the city on the whole was very jumbled. This film could have been set anywhere. It doesn’t have to be Venice. It could be Amsterdam. It could be any city, other than the fact that they’re always on boats. But they could have just been in cars.

There is that big boat-and-foot chase in the middle. Jolie is in a boat, pulling Depp who’s tied up in another boat, and meanwhile these goons with guns are running from bridge to bridge trying to shoot at them. Is that possible in Venice?

Yeah, it’s possible.

The boat seemed to be going very slowly. Is that a rule in Venice that boats can only go so fast or did she just get in a crappy boat?

[laughs]

I guess the only way for people on foot to keep up with a boat is for the boat to go very slowly.

Yeah.

I was wondering if there is maybe a speed limit for boats in Venice.

Yeah, but why would you obey it in a chase?

Good point.

That didn’t bother me as much. What really bothered me was the incoherent way they mapped out the space. You’ve got this place, one of the most interesting in the world when it comes to actually having to find your way around. It would be a perfect place to stage a good chase scene. And the chases were just very dull. What did you think? For someone who’s never been to Venice, did you feel like the movie showed you anything that you haven’t seen before?

Well I took note of the Hotel Danieli, where Depp and Jolie first stay when they arrive. That’s a real hotel?

It’s one of the top hotels in the world. It’s beautiful. They just put it in the wrong place in Venice.

It’s in the wrong spot?

That’s not where the hotel actually is. Everything you see from their window is wrong.

I also took note of how poor the roofing was everywhere around it. Depp sneaks out of the window of their suite to escape some bad guys and winds up on a rooftop where he keeps cracking and moving all the shingles. Are Venetians known for their poor roofing skills?

Not that I know of. That did look like a really bad roofing job.

You audibly groaned a few times in the movie. The first time was when they arrive in Venice at the train station.

Yeah. They filmed Johnny Depp walking out of the train station, which is on the Grand Canal. Then Angelina Jolie pulls up in her boat. When we get the reverse shot of them taking off together in her the boat, they’re in a completely different place.

So the boat pulls up to the dock at the Grand Canal. When it leaves it’s magically transported to a different location?

Right in front of St. Mark’s Square. That’s what made me cringe. In a movie set in New York, it would be like having two characters standing in Brooklyn Heights, looking at all of downtown Manhattan. Then in the reverse shot, the characters are in Central Park. Both are highlights of the city but they’re completely unrelated places.

You also made a noise when Angelina Jolie dropped Johnny Depp off at the airport later in the film.

Yeah, because she drops him off at the water taxi station at the airport. The airport is not on the main island of Venice. Then there’s a reverse shot, she’s pulling away in a boat already back on the main island. It doesn’t make any sense.

When this film plays in Venice, how do you think people will react to these mismatched locations?

They’ll laugh at it.

I’m sure this is not the first movie to do this sort of thing, though.

Well it’s happened before but this is really a low point.

It’s that bad?

This is terrible. Even “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was better, and that had Harrison Ford in the sewer system in Venice — and of course there is no sewer system in Venice. This just really uses the city as a backdrop. A flat backdrop.

So you thought this represented a low-point for Venice onscreen?

Absolutely.

It didn’t seem that bad to me. But I guess that’s what they’re counting on, people like me who don’t know anything about Venice. What non-Italian movie best evokes what the city is really like?

“Don’t Look Now” is good. “The Comfort of Strangers” is pretty good, although it has a dreamlike quality to it. Even the wacky Bond movies weren’t bad. [“Casino Royale” and “From Russia With Love”]

And have you seen any worse than this?

No, this was the lowest point.

What? Have you seen “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?” There’s a car chase in Venice!

I have not. But then again, that’s a fantasy. This is meant to be in the real world. It’s not like the city isn’t represented well by some of the beautiful helicopter establishing shots. But if you’re making a movie in Venice, why keep it in the background the whole time? When you make a spy movie in New York, you bring the city into the story because it has its own geography and character. Just compare “The Tourist” and its use of Venice to the “Bourne” films. This film could be something. But it isn’t.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

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Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

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Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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