September 4, 2016: All Night at the Venice Film Festival

So as it happens, it’s the Venice Film Festival and Venice is only a couple hours away! After going to Cannes, I realized the beauty of film festivals. And I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Unlike Cannes, Venice is open to the public. You just have to buy tickets! And all considering, the tickets are relatively reasonable for one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.

Dylan was one of the few people I knew before I arrived in Italy, so I asked him to join me. I met him at the train station where he was chatting up some random girls he met on the platform. He is very social. He was even using his Italian–I admire and commend that. I would not be so brave with my Italian skills.

Once we emerged from the train station Venezia San Lucia, we saw the beauty that is Venice. It is quite the sight to behold. Sure, the canal kind of smells, but it’s so beautiful with the buildings and boats on the water. That first glimpse was just incredible. I wish I had stopped to take a photo. I think I have some GoPro footage somewhere.

We took a vaporetto, or a water taxi. It was super crowded and slow because it makes all the stops. We went through the Grand Canal where the main bridge was undergoing renovation. We saw a bunch of stands set up along the canal for an upcoming regatta. We reached the Lido where the film festival is held. It is the furthest island from the center of the city. It is more residential. I honestly, don’t know why it’s all the way over there. Certainly makes it a different environment than Cannes.

We got quick paninis for lunch before our first of four screenings. I love movies and so four sounded like a good day. At first, our big dilemma was whether or not to see the double feature at 8pm, ending at around midnight. Because, the train back to Bologna was at 7:30pm, then 12:00am, then 5am. How ridiculous is that timing? Our second screening ended too late to take the hour long vaporetto ride back to the station to catch the 7:30. And then the midnight was sold out online (turns out we could’ve bought it in person, but we didn’t know that and why would that make any sense?). So we opted for the 5am. Which meant we were free to see the double feature! And then hang out all night until the first train (sounds like Tokyo, doesn’t it?)


We found our way to the theater and walked the grounds a bit. The atmosphere is much more relaxed than at Cannes, quite casual. No one is dressed up. People are just lounging around.  We ended up at wrong theater and the wrong line. All of the theaters are basically right next to each other. We erroneously assumed that our first film, a premiere in the main competition, would be in the grandest looking building in the middle. That was wrong. In fact, the largest, “most grand” theater was off to the side in a building that looked straight out of the Third World. It’s that off-white color, with ugly small windows. It looks like a barely functional bureaucratic building without air conditioning from the outside. The inside was much nicer thankfully. But anyways, we just barely made it in time since we stood at the wrong theater and then in the wrong line. With tickets, we didn’t have to wait in line, but we didn’t know that. We didn’t get a guide to the Venice Film Festival. You sort of just have to figure it out. Here the public with tickets gets higher priority than the badge holders. This ain’t no Cannes. The introduction to the Venice films is cool, not as cool as the Cannes one, but check it out here:

The theater is big but not exactly pretty for the Sala Grande. The inside of the theater has two levels. There is a grand staircase connecting them right in the middle of the theater, so it isn’t exactly a balcony but a second level. The directors and cast sit in the front row of that second level, as if on a platform for the orchestra to see. We sat very near the front being late and all. I could hardly read the English subtitles beneath the screen because the man in front of me was too tall, but the movie barely had any dialogue anyhow. Here is my review of the first film, Spira Mirabilis (it was super boring, it was like Tree of Life without a point):

In case you were wondering, I went to the bathroom and it was nothing particularly special. The second screening was in a different room, Darsena. I actually preferred it. It was kind of oval shaped, and there was a cool wave pattern on the walls. The cast was in attendance for the second screening too. The men all had thick beards, a symbol of Italian masculinity, I think. I hear they do it so there is no ambiguity regarding their heterosexuality. Is it true? I don’t know. Here is my review of the Italian film, Il Piu Grande Sogno (real life people playing themselves):

Before our final screenings, we stopped for dinner. We walked by some people in tuxes for the Mel Gibson premiere. We saw the same black Renaults we saw in Cannes carrying the stars. And we walked past some fancy hotels. You’d think it wouldn’t be so difficult to find food at a big international event, but alas food is nowhere to be found. We walked several blocks away from the main theater finding just residences. Eventually we came across a tennis club with well kept clay courts and there was a restaurant there. Don’t know if it was open to the public but they never asked us for membership cards. So we just sat down and acted like we belonged. Now one of the things on the menu was a pizza called schiacchiata, which translates to smash. It is plain pizza, meaning without sauce or cheese. Yeah, it’s just bread. I don’t really understand why it’s a thing. It’s literally just bread. Why don’t they call it bread? We also ordered a prosciutto and melon which was great as always. I put the prosciutto on my bread.


So the double feature was in Palabiennale. It is a large temporary theater away from the main section in sort of a warehouse structure. It holds more people than the main theater–this is the people’s theater, famous for its nightly double feature for the price of one. The room is enormous. The first film was Hacksaw Ridge, which was simultaneously premiering in the Sala Grande. It was much better than I was expecting:

And the film that ended the night was El Ciudadano Ilustre from Argentina.It was very funny, and it was a nice light humor to end the night. Well, I mean to end our movie-watching, the night was hardly over by 1am:

The movie got out later than expected, not that it mattered since our train wasn’t until 5am. The film festival area was totally dead when we got out at 1am. I know there are parties somewhere, but I have no idea where. There is no chance we would’ve gotten in. The Lido is so remote, I suppose the parties are elsewhere in Venice, but the city was extraordinarily quiet. You would have had no idea the Film Festival was in town. We walked to the Lido stop, got gelato, and took a vaporetto to San Zaccharo, right next to St. Mark’s square. Even this main tourist attraction, always full of Chinese tourists, was empty. Even in Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, you’d find people hanging out at 2am, but there was literally no one. So we took some cool pictures (though in the dark you can’t really see much in the camera) of this iconic landmark sans tourists.


The church and palace and piazza very pretty. Venice is pretty at nigh,t deserted, picturesque. There is a calm to the city that you never get in the day. Night is really the time to experience the city. But its so deserted. We even had trouble finding a bar to get a drink. We eventually found the one bar that was open and the beer was 8 euros! But we drank our beers and found chairs and talked for hours. Dylan is easy to talk to because he likes to talk. We peed in the canal because nothing was open at this hour, not even the sketchy public toilets down small dark alleyways that you have to pay for. The whole city smells like urine anyhow (or perhaps for this reason precisely). In Bologna, it smells like urine because of all the dogs, but in Venice, it’s the canals. Amazingly, there are fish in these canals. I don’t know how anything lives in this disgusting looking water.

The streets are very narrow. And the canals are everywhere. Doors open out onto the canal, and I wonder how that works. Are they practical doors? Are they the boat equivalent of a garage? Can you live in Venice and not have a boat? There must be a second entrance on the backside of the building opening out onto a street…because I just can’t imagine that the only door to the building opens on the water. We also spied some external structure outside the building that may have been a garbage disposal? But I really have no idea.


Everything was closed, but every now and then we’d see some people. The bakeries were actually starting to open. You’d see some movement inside. We stumbled upon a film shoot for a new show on E! called The Arrangement. Because only people who are working are still up at this hour. I guess it was appropriate that we saw a film shoot after going to a film festival. Every now and then we’d come across people. In the Italian tradition, you’d see people making out on the steps of a bridge. You’ll see people making out all over the place in public, like on the train. You can’t put your feet up, the ticket checker will scold you for that, but he will say nothing about the topless man making out with his girlfriend right behind you.

Trying to navigate our way to the train station on foot was quite difficult despite the signs. The signs for the train station exist, but they are sparse and contradictory. You’ll walk down an alley and then have to search around for the next sign, and then you’d find two that pointed in opposite directions. That’s when I had to pull out Google Maps. Thank god I turned off my phone during the movies. We had plenty of time, so it’s not like we were in a rush. The biggest problem is the streets are not straight and sometimes they run into a canal and then you have to turn back. We walked over the Rialto bridge and had the whole Grand Canal to ourselves. Some streets looked kind of sketchy. I am very glad Dylan was there with me cause I would not have wanted to walk them alone in the dark. Not that there was anyone there, save for the lovebirds. But it was kind of more scary without people. I don’t know, it’s a little sketchy either way.

We did get to the train station with plenty of time. I’m glad that we got to see some of Venice, even if nothing was open. We got on our fast Freccia train and passed out. By the time I got back to Bologna, I actually still have a few hours before my class at 11am. So I took a nap at home. Dylan was somehow quite energetic when I saw him in class. I, on the other hand, was exhausted and it showed.


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