The Venice day-tripper may imagine herself wandering not a city but a floating outdoor museum, densely dotted with overpriced cafés and desolate mask shops, where earliest-stage ruins sink luxuriously (and literally) into exquisite decay and all the natives are de facto employees of the tourist hordes. Hard stats confirm a first impression: In 2004, some 14 million visitors thronged a lagoon-polis about the size of Central Park, while in the last 50 years, Venice’s resident population has dropped by nearly two-thirds, to 64,000. Putting faces to numbers, the DV doc The Venetian Dilemma assembles a miniature mosaic of locals to address the titular quandary: How do you modernize a waterborne 1,500-year-old city? And who comes first, the citizens or the gawkers?
Clocking in at a skinny 73 minutes, the meandering Venetian Dilemma bobs and lists between four main interviewees but barely skims the surface of the vast sociocultural, historical, and scientific issues it raises. Deputy mayor Roberto D’Agostino bets that the answer to Venice’s prayers lies in an underwater metro, but the proposed subway’s critics warn of adverse infrastructural impact and an even greater influx of tourists. A produce vendor sings the swan song of the independent merchant, while an environmental activist protests against speeding boats, which add turbulence to already rising water levels. Most engaging is Michela Scibilia, a working mother who campaigns for wider availability of child care. Amid a graying and marginalized population, Scibilia provides a spirited representation of an endangered species: the young Venetian family. Of her newborn son, she jokes, “He has to be protected, like the panda.”