ROME (Reuters) - As the 66th International Film Festival kicks off in Venice, the world premiere of "The Marriage" by British director Peter Greenaway brings to life one of the city's most precious, pillaged paintings.
The 40-minute film, due to be screened next Friday, continues Greenaway's exploration of Paolo Veronese's "The Wedding at Cana," a vast banquet scene completed by the Italian Renaissance Master in 1563 and stolen by Napoleonic troops from Venice just over two centuries later.
Almost 70 square meters in area, The Wedding at Cana depicts the New Testament miracle story in which Jesus turns water into wine.
With a mixture of contemporary Venetian and antique detail, the painting presents 126 figures at a sumptuous meal described by Greenaway as "a real, and far from Biblical, party," according to Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera.
As part of this year's Biennale art festival, Greenaway exhibited a multimedia installation based on the painting in the refectory of the Benedictine Monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore, where it was first hung.
But in the new film, which mingles historical fact and imagination, Greenaway suggests the original subject of Veronese's painting was a scandalous -- and blasphemous -- rendition of Christ's own marriage.
The film, the third in a nine-part series by Greenaway exploring Old Masters, continues the director's interest in the relations between painting and cinema.
"The two languages have so much in common that there should be dialogue, exchange, between them much more frequently and much more directly," Greenaway said in a statement released by Change Performing Arts, which produced the film.
The filmmaker, who trained as a muralist before starting making experimental movies in 1966, has produced over 50 short films and documentaries, as well as acclaimed feature-length works like "The Draughtsman's Contract" and "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover."
His latest work will touch a theme close to the hearts of many Venetians. For 234 years, Veronese's masterpiece hung in the monastery's refectory until it was plundered in the Napoleonic invasion of 1797 and shipped back to France.
The painting was cut in half for the journey and pieced back together in Paris. In the post-Napoleonic conciliation treaties which pursued the return of looted works of art, The Wedding at Cana was not returned to Venice and it remains in the Louvre.
Greenaway's installation for the Biennale, which runs until September 13, made use of a facsimile reproduction of the painting installed in its original place in 2007, combined with state-of-the-art digital imagery, lighting and sound.
With close-up images of faces, animated diagrams and imagined dialogue, the installation allowed spectators to find themselves inside the wedding scene, as it is brought to life.
It attracted between 12,000 and 13,000 visitors over the course of the summer.
Greenaway launched his nine-work synthesis of cinema and art history, entitled 'Nine Classical Paintings Revisited', in 2006 with Rembrandt's Nightwatch in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, followed by Leonardo's Last Supper in 2008.
The next works in the series are Picasso's "Guernica," a Monet, a Pollock, Velasquez' "Las Meninas," Seurat's "La Grande Jatte" and Michelangelo's "Last Judgment."
Editing by Daniel Flynn