At the beginning of the new movie “The Tourist,” a mild-mannered American schoolteacher is sitting alone on a train from Paris to Venice. A mysterious and beautiful English woman approaches him, sits in the open seat across from him, and engages him in conversation. Soon they’re drinking wine and flirting over an elegant dinner on the train.
When they arrive in Venice, they are briefly separated, but when the teacher is poring over a map near St Mark’s Square, the beauty pulls up in a sleek motorboat and whisks him off to the Doge’s Suite at the five-star Hotel Danieli, where they end up in a long kiss.
This so closely resembled my own first experience as a tourist in Europe that I thought the movie was a documentary. But then I realized that in this version there were no pigeons in St. Mark’s Square. Now that’s bending the truth a bit too far.
I had been excited to see this movie. I’m a big fan of Johnny Depp, and Angelina Jolie is, well, Lara Croft incarnate, and the movie was shot on location in Paris and Venice – the geographical equivalents of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. So how could this movie not be smoking hot?
I also thought that a movie with the title “The Tourist” might provide some interesting perspective on that old-as-Venice debate about the difference between a traveler and a tourist.
Well, movie-viewing is like traveling. Sometimes you look at the brochures and the postcards and you arrive thinking, “This place is going to be unbelievable.” And it turns out to be unbelievable – but in the wrong way. That’s how it was with me and this movie: I felt like a duped tourist at “The Tourist.”
The plot was contrived and implausible, and the actors just seemed to be going through the motions – there was none of the passion-spark that ignites a new infatuation, whether with a person or with a place.
But let me tell you what I did like about the film: Venice. (Paris, I should note, played just a cameo role in the first 15 minutes of the film.) Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmark presented Venice in the same way that he presented Angelina Jolie: with long, lingering, loving shots. After a while, this didn’t work so well for Ms. Jolie, but Venice handled this treatment superbly, the old pastel buildings reflected in lapping canals, the ceaseless water traffic of gondolas, taxi-boats and barges passing elegantly sculpted facades, the terra-cotta roof-tiles, shadowy side-streets, voluptuous bridges and romantic terraces. Venice at dawn and at dusk, at noon and midnight – we got to revel in a variety of Venetian moods, all of them glorious.
Of course, one could quibble. Like it or not, Venice smells, and the Venice in “The Tourist” looked antiseptic, deodorized. Similarly, the city was less littered and crumbling than the Venice I love, and certainly less pigeoned, and while there were a couple of promising chase scenes, the plot didn’t allow the film-makers to get lost in the intricate and beguiling back-alleys of the city, where its real magic blooms. (Come to think of it, the plot didn’t allow us to get lost in the characters’ back-alleys, either – a real shame.)
But still, in addition to the majestic Danieli and elegant St. Mark’s, the film offered a sumptuous selection of Venetian sights, including the incomparable Grand Canal itself, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and its alluring canal-level terrace in the Dorsoduro district, the workaday Rialto Fish Market near the Campo de la Becarie, and the peaceful, mostly residential island of Giudecca – a particularly rewarding off-the-beaten-path stop for real tourists.
Which reminds me of one new ripple in that old tourist vs. traveler tempest: I was delighted to discover that STA Travel has a prominent advertisement on the movie’s official home page proclaiming, “Visit STA Travel to find trips to experience Italy like a true tourist!” I can’t recall any other time when experiencing somewhere “like a true tourist” has been touted as so exciting!
Is “The Tourist” worth the ticket? Well, as a cinematic traveler, I didn’t get to see the Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie I had been hoping to see, but I did get to savor La Serenissima in wide-screen splendor for an hour and a half, and that was a real trip.