Gianni Berengo Gardin’s Tale of Two Cities may seem like a bizarrely specific title for a film, but there’s a reason for the title being exactly what it is (and Charles Dickens has nothing to do with it). Berengo Gardin is not the director—that would be Donna Serbe-Davis—but he’s both the inspiration for the film’s core concept, and his work is one of its subjects.
Berengo Gardin’s name may not be familiar to most Saint Louisans, but he’s a celebrated photographer whose most famous works are of his native Italy. Born in Santa Margherita Ligure (metropolitan Genoa), he was self-taught as a photographer, and became widely known for his street photographs portraying the daily life and work of ordinary people, both in Italy and abroad. Berengo Gardin is particularly renowned for his photographs of Venice, which document the city over a period of more than 60 years. Venice was also the location of his most celebrated photograph, the multilayered Vaporetto, taken in 1960 (a vaporetto is the public waterbus, the Venetian equivalent of a city bus for a city where the primary thoroughfares are canals rather than roads).
The “two cities” in question are alternative versions of Venice. On one hand, you have the old, traditional Venice of neighborhoods and cafes, where the city’s residents live out their daily lives. On the other hand, you have the Venice that is subject to regular invasions of giant cruise ships carrying thousands of day-tripping tourists who want to see the sights listed in their guidebooks, necessarily in a hurry since they must hop back on the ship before it leaves. The old Venice is represented by Berengo Gardin’s photographs, supplemented with interviews and recently-shot footage of Venetians going about their daily lives.
The new Venice is also represented by the photographs of Berengo Gardin, from the 2015 exhibition “Venice and the Big Ships,” which was shown at the Olivetti store in the Piazza San Marco, along with more recent footage. His views of this new Venice sometimes look like scenes from a monster movie, in which the monsters take the form of bizarrely large ships dwarfing the ancient city.
As you might expect from a documentary formed around the work of a noted photographer, Gianni Berengo Gardin’s Tale of Two Cities is an absolutely beautiful film. It’s also well-sourced, as we hear from various experts about what those monster ships are doing to Venice’s lagoon, and the invading hordes of tourists to the delicate urban ecology of the city. | Sarah Boslaugh
Gianni Berengo Gardin’s Tale of Two Cities is available for home viewing in Missouri and Illinois from Nov. 5-22 as part of the Saint Louis International Film Festival. You can purchase tickets ($10 general, $8 for Cinema St. Louis members) through the festival web site. Further information about SLIFF, including a complete list of films available and viewing options, is also available from the festival web site.