Chaplin coffin-theft film premieres in Venice

Charlie Chaplin's son attended the Venice film festival on Thursday for the premiere of The Price of Fame, a movie based on the true story of two immigrants who dug up the silent-film legend's coffin for ransom money.

Chaplin coffin-theft film premieres in Venice
Eugene Chaplin (L) arrives for the screening of 'The Price of Fame' at the Venice film festival. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

French director Xavier Beauvois, of Of Gods and Men fame, tells the tale of down-and-out Belgian and Algerian friends in Switzerland who hit on the idea of the theft partly out of greed and partly as a way to meet healthcare costs.

The tragicomedy – in the running for the Golden Lion – draws an engaging Chaplin-esque performance from Benoit Poelvoorde, with laughs in particular from a scene where the bungling grave-robbers discover they are not the only ones to have demanded a ransom.

But the tribute to the hero of The Kid and The Gold Rush wanes in the second half and the film appears to lose its way with a chaotic mix of Gregorian chants, organ music and jazz.

Chaplin's son Eugene, who plays a bit role in the flick along with one of the star's grandchildren, Dolores Chaplin, told journalists in Venice that the film captured well the difficult period when his father's body was snatched.

"The coffin was stolen for quite some time, and we didn't know who was behind it. There were threats, my younger brother was threatened," he said.

"When we eventually found my father's coffin in a field next to a forest, on the edge of a canal, it was marvellous," he said.

Chaplin's coffin was taken by a pair of immigrants from Poland and Bulgaria in 1978 and recovered after a large-scale police search, during which 200 phone kiosks were watched and the phone at the Chaplins' home was tapped.

Demands of £400,000 (€300,000) were made for return of the body, but Chaplin's widow Oona refused to pay, saying that her husband would have "thought it ridiculous".

Beauvois said the idea for the film had come to him while re-watching City Lights: "I remembered that his coffin had been stolen for ransom and thought to myself: 'This is a movie!'"

"I wanted to transform it into a tale whereby Chaplin would be a sort of genie, like Aladdin's genie, who grants wishes," he said.

The challenge of revisiting the silent actor's famous Tramp figure in the two immigrants was too good to resist for a director who said he believes "Chaplin is cinema itself, a sacred figure."

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Italy to pay €57m compensation over Venice cruise ship ban

The Italian government announced on Friday it would pay 57.5 million euros in compensation to cruise companies affected by the decision to ban large ships from Venice's fragile lagoon.

A cruise ship in St Mark's Basin, Venice.
The decision to limit cruise ship access to the Venice lagoon has come at a cost. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The new rules, which took effect in August, followed years of warnings that the giant floating hotels risked causing irreparable damage to the lagoon city, a UNESCO world heritage site.

READ ALSO: Venice bans large cruise ships from centre after Unesco threat of ‘endangered’ status

Some 30 million euros has been allocated for 2021 for shipping companies who incurred costs in “rescheduling routes and refunding passengers who cancelled trips”, the infrastructure ministry said in a statement.

A further 27.5 million euros – five million this year and the rest in 2022 – was allocated for the terminal operator and related companies, it said.

The decision to ban large cruise ships from the centre of Venice in July came just days before a meeting of the UN’s cultural organisation Unesco, which had proposed adding Venice to a list of endangered heritage sites over inaction on cruise ships.

READ ALSO: Is Venice really banning cruise ships from its lagoon?

Under the government’s plan, cruise ships will not be banned from Venice altogether but the biggest vessels will no longer be able to pass through St Mark’s Basin, St Mark’s Canal or the Giudecca Canal. Instead, they’ll be diverted to the industrial port at Marghera.

But critics of the plan point out that Marghera – which is on the mainland, as opposed to the passenger terminal located in the islands – is still within the Venice lagoon.

Some aspects of the plan remain unclear, as infrastructure at Marghera is still being built. Meanwhile, smaller cruise liners are still allowed through St Mark’s and the Giudecca canals.

Cruise ships provide a huge economic boost to Venice, but activists and residents say the ships contribute to problems caused by ‘overtourism’ and cause large waves that undermine the city’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.