Goodbye to Hotel Des Bains, hello to more construction

There are all kinds of novelities in the works at Venice.

As Marco Mueller turns the fest into more of a cinematic laboratory with his reconfigurated Horizons section, the Lido is also increasingly becoming a bustling construction site.

The new Palazzo del Cinema, which broke ground last year, is still under construction, and a trim to the Biennale budget is forcing the fest to do away with the tentlike Sala Perla 2 venue it had set up last year to provide an extra screen until the new digs are ready.

Meanwhile, the historic 200-room Hotel Des Bains — a favorite of many fest attendees — is being converted into apartments, forcing some festgoers to seek accomodations in Venice proper, where water bus transport across the lagoon to the Lido has been beefed up.

The end of the Des Bains, at least in its original incarnation, marks the end of an era. The Palladian hotel with its terrace, big blue pool and ballroom, where Luchino Visconti shot “Death in Venice,” was the choice place to stay and also one the best spots to have a Bellini and hobnob away from the crowds.

This year, the posh Hotel Danieli in Venice will be providing some grandeur as an alternate fest hub across the lagoon, while the Excelsior will continue to host most Lido action.

But the show must go on, and Mueller is confident festgoers will understand how to navigate the fest just like they did last year, when work on the site had already started. Completion of the new palazzo is now expected in 2012, according to Biennale prexy Paolo Baratta.

Baratta has said the key word on the Lido this year will be “sobriety,” meaning no splashy opening-night bash on the Excelsior beach. But that doesn’t mean the fest has scrapped opening-night festivities entirely.

A more low-key — but still glam — opening party will be held for Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” in the Excelsior’s Sala Degli Stucchi salon and Terrazza Dei Fiori terrace. This, incidentally, is where Sergio Leone shot the scene in “Once Upon a Time in America” in which Noodles (Robert De Niro) books a restaurant and an orchestra for his date with Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern). Not too shabby.

And, in an attempt of sorts to make the absence of the Des Bains less painful, Mueller has designated a former nightclub venue in the Casino as the Horizons Club, a new and somewhat secluded spot where there will be food and drink for helmers, talent and journos.

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