Last week saw the premiere of the new movie Bel Ami, based on the eponymous novel by Jules Marquette. If you’re unfamiliar, Bel Ami is a story about a society painter who becomes a symbol of male chauvinism and homosexuality in post-war Paris. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the fact that it was shot entirely in Italy. While many films are being shot in Spain and the south of France due to tax breaks and cheaper labour costs, it is interesting to see an English-language production head to a country many consider to be part of the “third world”.
The movie was shot in three separate locations in Italy: Venice, Cinque Terre, and Portofino. I had the opportunity to visit all of these while attending the film’s premiere in Milan. And what a premiere it was! Director Luc Besson and stars Robert Pattinson and Tom Cruise were in attendance along with a host of A-list Italian celebs. Besson and Cruise had a Q&A session after the screening and spoke about the film in Italian, which was actually a language I only really learned how to speak while growing up in Italy. So it was certainly an experience to speak to these two international superstars in my native tongue!
The first location we headed to was Venice, whose lagoon inspired the city name and acts as the film’s primary setting. Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and this was certainly reflected in Besson’s decision to shoot most of the movie there. The city is steeped in romance and mystery, with many tourists visiting each year to take a walk along the historic city walls or catch a gondola ride to admire the sunset over the Grand Canal. There are also many elegant restaurants and bars where film lovers can enjoy a drink while taking in the beauty of the setting sun and watching the world go by.
One of the places that Bel Ami was definitely not shot in was the Italian Riviera. The director and producers could have opted for somewhere more temperate such as Portofino, where the film was actually shown, but they wanted to keep some of the more “backstage” elements of high fashion close to the fashion industry. The five towns that make up the Cinque Terre, which is where the French Riviera begins, are connected by a series of scenic roads that cut through dramatic mountains and offer stunning vistas. The towns are comprised of a unique collection of skyscraping buildings surrounded by dramatic natural beauty. It feels a bit like being in a postcard.
Portofino is the most glamorous of the three locations, and it was here that Tom Cruise plays a wealthy industrialist whose yacht is robbed by a group of thugs. It’s a pretty cool looking boat you’re on there, Mr Cruise! The town’s attractions include an 18th century palace, a Roman temple, and an aqueduct. Like Venice, Portofino is also steeped in history, with many high-profile figures having lived and entertained there over the years. Most of the film’s locations were actually filmed at an open-air cinema in a nearby town, although the palaces and other historic buildings in Portofino were used as sets.
The next stop on our tour was Florence, the city that was once the artistic and cultural centre of Italy. The beautiful Renaissance city is easily accessible by train from Venice or Milan, with the airport also having daily connections to the capital. This is a must-see location for any tourist in Italy as there are so many wonderful things to do and see. One of the best ways to explore the city is through its many shopping centres and street markets, where you’ll find everything from gold and marble to leather and fashion. There are also many museums, galleries, and castles to visit, along with the obligatory chocolate shops, gelato parlours, and truffle fairs. We recommend a day trip, as it takes at least a full day to see everything.
Museum Island is adjacent to central Florence, and it’s where the film’s famous Costume Institute resides. The museum’s collection includes everything from ancient Egyptian attire to the modern styles worn by movie stars today. The island is connected to the rest of Florence by the Ponte Vecchio, a 16th century stone bridge that arches over a small stream. The island’s attractions include the Orsanmichele church, where you’ll find the 13th century Giotto di Campigli construction, the Palazzo Vecchio (the city’s main government building), and the Campanile (Bell tower). Tourists visit the island daily, with many snapping selfies in front of the famous “David” sculpture by Georges Braque.
There are so many stunning, historic Italian cities and locations that can be used to film movie and TV productions. These three locations, especially Venice and Florence, offer a taste of the “real Italy” that many people travel to the country to experience. It’s no wonder that Besson and company chose to film there as it really is a paradise for film makers!