(by Andrea Gropplero - Cinecittario: Archivio Luce)
There are those who would say that the Veneto region is a state of mind. Certainly, the region is a favoured setting for artists: dozens of films have been shot here by directors from all over the world and even before them William Shakespeare used it for three of his works and Dante Alighieri began writing his Inferno in Venice. From the Dolomites to Verona and Venice, the Veneto region is most certainly a gift for the eyes and a generous source of inspiration for great masterpieces.Print itinerary
The only documented voyage that Dante took to Venice is dated August 1321 when he was sent as ambassador by Guido Novello da Polenta, the lord of Ravenna. On his return from this mission, the Great Poet caught malaria in the valleys of Comacchio which led to his death in September 1321. It is probable, however, that Dante visited Venice on two other occasions between 1303 and 1314, even if there is no written source to back this up. He is thought to have gone to Padua on the first journey, sometime between 1303 and 1305, where he met Giotto while he was painting the frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel and from there he went to Venice to stay with his friend the poet Giovanni Quirini. On that occasion, Dante was apparently stunned by the mosaic of the Universal Judgement in Torcello Cathedral, drawing inspiration from it for his work, just as his peer Giotto did for his Universal Judgement in the Scrovegni Chapel of Padua. At the time, Venice was the most influential maritime power in the Mediterranean and its enormous fleet was trading in the footsteps of Marco Polo with both East and the West. Dante was impressed by the organization and the productive capacity of the Arsenal where boats were built using the criteria of a modern factory and he set several verses of the XXI Canto of the Inferno there:
In the Venetians’ arsenal
as boils through wintry months tenacious pitch,
to smear their unsound vessels [...]
It is said that he very much enjoyed eating fish and during his ambassadorial mission to Venice was a guest of the Doge Soranzo who invited him to dinner. Gathered at Soranzo’s table, great orators were served large fish while Dante was given a smaller one. Alighieri picked up the fish in his hands and began speaking to it in a low voice, then holding it up to his ear. The Doge, curious, asked what he was doing. Dante answered that his father died at sea and he was asking for news but that the fish had replied that he was too small to know and that a larger fish could provide more information. At that point, the Doge had him served a big fish.
In Ron Howard’s film Inferno (2016), based on Dan Brown’s novel, shot in Venice, Florence and Istanbul, the solution to the intricate labyrinth that is the unfolding of the thriller is supplied by the facemask of Dante Alighieri created just before his death on his return from Venice.
17 of the 35 works by the great English poet and playwright are set in Italy and three of his most important masterpieces have the Veneto as the focus of their existence. Othello is set in Venice, like The Merchant of Venice while the story of Romeo and Juliet unfolds in Verona. These masterpieces have been remade into numerous films over time.
Othello has produced 11. The first was made in 1906 by Mario Caserini and Gaston Velle and the most famous by Orson Welles in 1951. The latter was beset by financial trouble and took three years to make: the great director had intended to shoot the final scene in Cyprus but, for budgetary reasons, was forced to do so in Venice where we see the loggia of the Ducal Palace and the famous spiral staircase of Palazzo Contarini Bovolo. Welles was able to finish the film by investing the profits from The Third Man, made with Carol Reed in 1949. The most recent Othello was Oliver Parker’s 1995 version starring Laurence Fisher and Kenneth Branagh.
There are 22 film versions of The Merchant of Venice: the first dates to 1908 by J. Stuart Blackton, the latest to 2004 directed by Michael Radford and starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes.
And then there are 23 films based on Romeo and Juliet: once again J. Stuart Blackton shot the first, in 1908, while others include Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version and the animated Disney film: The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride (1998).
Venezia and its beauty appear not to belong to this world. It seems to be a planet of its own, similarly it appears not to belong to Italy alone but to the shared imagination of the entire world. This may be why hundreds of films are shot here every year by productions from around the globe. Hollywood and Bollywood productions come, as do the great maestros of Italian and European cinema. Luchino Visconti shot Senso (1954) and Death in Venice (1971), Vittorio De Sica A Place for Lovers (1968) and his last film The Voyage (1971), Federico Fellini set Fellini’s Casanova (1976) in Venice and Antonioni Identification of a Woman (1982), while Paolo Sorrentino was here to film some of The Young Pope (2016). These are just some of the over 700 films shot in the city of love.
Venice also boasts one of the most important cultural institutions in Italy and perhaps the world: the Biennale, which began as a culture organization in 1895 with the first Esposizione Biennale – Biennial Exhibition – in the world, thanks to the Mayor of Venice, Riccardo Selvatico. Established to provide a more realistic vision of the recent unification of Italy by promoting its art and market, it has in more recent years grown to include five more multidisciplinary exhibitions in addition to the original Esposizione internazionale d’arte di Venezia, known simply as the Biennale Arte.
One of the funniest scenes in the episode Le vacanze intelligenti, in the collective film Where are you going on holiday? (1978) directed by and featuring Alberto Sordi, is set at the Biennale Arte. A husband and wife, Remo (Alberto Sordi) and Augusta Proietti (Anna Longhi), fruit sellers from Rome, are sent by their children on a dietary cultural tour of Italy for the ferragosto (mid-August) holidays. While visiting the Biennale Arte, Augusta sits on a chair beside a palm tree, becoming a part of the art work. The work, with sitting woman, is photographed and besieged by visitors and collectors, one even wants to buy her. Remo saves her from the photographers, collectors, the Biennale and the diet which they finally eventually break with a gourmet meal worthy of Lucullus that ends with poor Augusta having her stomach pumped.
The exhibitions are all on a two-year rotating basis, except for the annual Venice Film Festival Mostra internazionale d’arte cinematografica di Venezia which is one of the international industry’s most important events.
Visconti returned to the Veneto region with Senso, 11 years after shooting Obsession, moving his set from the province of Rovigo to Venice. Visconti always approaches food with a certain detachment: there is something undefined in the pan of the establishment in Obsession, and equally undefined are the contents of the soup bowl, part of the feast enjoyed by the young Austrian lieutenant (Farley Granger) as he insults Countess Livia Serpieri (Alida Valli) by comparing her to the prostitute which whom he has just been eating.
The same cannot be said of the descriptions of food and 18th-century Venetian opulence in Fellini’s Casanova (1976). The dinner sequence evokes (and is perhaps itself a citation) Trimalchio’s dinner in Fellini’s Satyricon (1976) given the sumptuousness of the dishes and the exhibition during the banquet. Fellini had a respectful relationship with food, he did not love the elaborate dishes he describes in his films. He loved spaghetti with tomato sauce and little oil or a round bread roll (rosetta) warm from the oven with a slice of mid-aged Parmigiano Reggiano. He loved the Roman-style pasta and beans that Giulietta Masina cooked for him, claiming that the secret lay in its density and a wooden spoon should be able to stand upright in the mixture in the earthenware pot.
Venetian food can be separate into four territorial macro-types: land, sea, lagoon and mountain, and is dominated by four shared elements: rice, polenta, beans and baccalà (salted cod). The rice to make risi e bisi (risotto with peas) arrived in the 1500s. At the same time, the flourishing trade with the East provided the spices, pepper, Corinth sultanas, cloves and cinnamon used for saor. The Venetians use this as a base to cook sardines and prawns in particular. The corn of the polenta came directly from the Americas as did the beans, the famed ones from Lamon. Late blooming radicchio is famous in the Treviso area and the recipe for fegato alla veneziana (Venetian liver), cooked with onions, also dates to the 1500s. The Balkans route however provided the unifying element in the food of the Veneto: bacalà (stockfish) which is prepared mantecato or alla vicentina served alongside polenta, usually without tomato.
This is the recipe of the Venerabile Confraternita del Bacalà alla Vicentina, as published in La cucina italiana.
INGREDIENTS for 12 people
Having previously beaten it well, soak the stockfish for two to three days in cold water, changing it every four hours. Remove part of its skin. Slit the fish longways, scale, gut and fillet. Dice it as equally as possible. Thinly slice the onions, sweat in a glass of oil, add the sardines (rinsed of their salt, scaled and cut into pieces); then remove from the heat and add the parsley.
Cover the pieces of stockfish with flour, then pour over the mirepoix of onion and sardine, then line them up in an earthenware or aluminium pan or a baking dish (on top of a layer of mirepoix), cover with the remains of the mirepoix and add milk, cheese, salt and pepper. Cover with oil until all the pieces are equally coated. Cook on a very low flame for more or less 4.5 hours, moving the dish around every now and again without ever stirring its contents.
This phase of the cooking is known in Vicentino dialect as pippare. Only experience can determine precisely when the fish is cooked, as it varies in consistency from piece to piece. Serve hot with sliced polenta. This dish is also excellent 12/14 hours later.
This game is for anyone who wants to make a homemade trailer about Dante and Shakespeare between Senso and Casanova based on Visconti’s Senso and Fellini’s Casanova. We’re providing the time codes for the film clips. Any edit program will work for this. Input the following data into the timeline and you’ll have your trailer in minutes.