One does not normally go to Florence to visit its art deco architecture but, indirectly, I do. The Odeon cinema, a stone’s throw away from the Palazzo Strozzi with its intelligent exhibitions, is great for anyone who wants to see the latest releases of quality un-dubbed films. I first discovered it a couple of years ago when I saw a moving film about the London bombings of 2005.
The Odeon is central and has the most comfortable of any seats I’ve found at the flix. It is also a gem of cinema architecture and takes its place among those movie-house masterpieces, like the Woolwich Granada in London, which were built to give its visitors a taste of luxury, adventure and exoticism even before viewing the main feature. Unlike the Woolwich Granada (internally decorated in a very colourful Hollywood gothic-fantasy style), however, the Florence Odeon has not been turned into a bingo hall but, instead, restored to its original glory and updated to take in the latest projection technology.
Art appliqués adorn the Odeon, elaborate columns and statues abound, ornate balconies project, a lalique-like dome circumscribes the stalls and above the proscenium an inscription (taken from a Lorenzo de Medici poem) declares “be happy because there’s no certainty about tomorrow.”
I particularly like the quite untouched ticket-office in its little booth and the thirties panel above it informing the audience which stage the current film has arrived at and which seats are still available. One of the displays is for the situation where “only standing room is available” in the stalls. Those were the days!
The film we saw was Terence Malick’s “To the Wonder”, released last year, with Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck and Javier Bardem. The story-line concerns the dynamics of a love affair between a guy from Oklahoma and a girl from the Ukraine, with old flames and a spiritually-challenged priest thrown in for good measure.
Filmed in a variety of locations ranging from Mont Saint Michel to Paris to Texas, with dialogue in at least three languages and with a sound track quoting music from Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead to Goreski’s Symphony of sorrowful songs it describes the passionate ebb and flow of emotions between the four people and their friends and family.
Visually stunning with camera work at times athletic, at others lyrical it is a kaleidoscope, without too much deep structure or comment, of love’s maelstrom. Water plays an active part in the scenery emphasising metaphorically, in the contamination of heavy metals in a mid-west river and the quick sands encompassing the Normandy fortress at high tide, the strange, unpredictable currents of love’s passion.
The acting is sensitive with a Ben Affleck who says practically nothing but expresses everything. The theme of the film could be summed up in one line of dialogue when the protagonist declares “Happy are those who are loved by love” –love is an unpredictable force which has to be in some way understood or tamed – it is not enough to love but to seek the love of love itself.
There are plenty more films on offer if you happen to be in this part of the world, including a season of cult movies featuring my undoubted favourite “Blue Velvet” with Isabella Rossellini (daughter of that other passionate love affair between a Swedish girl and an Italian bloke.)
After our evening at the Odeon we walked home crossing a semi-deserted Ponte Vecchio bathed in moonlight – something one can only do in Florence, of course….