Giacomo Casanova reflects on his life and the various encounters he has had with women. Casanova is known across the land as a man with a sexual gift. He can make love longer, harder and with more energy than any man. Some he has made love to for his own animal urges and others for more earthly reasons. A nun is seduced for the voyeurship of her lover. He wants to see what it is that this Casanova has. An older woman makes love to him in order to be given the dream child. This will allow her to become born a new and as a man. Then he takes a sick woman and cures her of her fainting spells. Like a man possesed he searches for that person who will love him but he ends up making love to everything in a soul less dream of securing any desire. He makes love to a robot in order to feel but fails. Then he takes part in an orgy with the circus group of opera performers. This all leads him to a reality that he is desperate to escape. The reality that he is as empty as everyone else inside and out…
For many the works of Fellini as a film maker define the greatest in the new wave of films emerging during the 1960s. They are more narrative driven than Godard and more fantastic than Bergman. To many in the industry Fellini’s work is considered some of the greatest films every made. Take films like 8 1/2 or La Dolce Vita and you can see the adoration of some of the key figures of modern film. I personally am less of a fan of these films. I mean I love large portions of 8 1/2 but find its final act lacking due to its descent into false reality and not truth. If you compare it to his earlier films like Night of Caberia, which is bold and very honest. You can see how fantasy become reality to Fellini. So having heard much about the brilliant fantastical world created in Casanova, I was very worried. Well I am here to say that those thoughts were utterly stupid. This is the greatest film by Fellini, hands down.
What makes me say this? Well it should begin with the centre of the film. Donald Sutherland is amazing as the narcissist Casanova. He adds many tones to the empty and sexually obtrusive man. Performance is key here and it is a treat to observe a great actor in a role made for him. His personal presence is so dominating that you feel as he is the stalker of another conquest. Sutherlands height helps here but so does his ability to float about onscreen. It is as if Casanova slowly becomes a ghost and this is totally correct. He is a broken man and one that is slowly decaying into a ghostly void. Sutherland gives him this by simple actions and a weaking presence. Add to this the nose and chin extensions that give his Casanova an almost statue like appearence. This was added by Fellini and my feeling is to reflect even more Casanovas belife that he was a work of art. A Narcissist who begins as a monster and becomes a tragic figure. Unable to love and unable to be loved. Sutherland is amazing as a man that has always used his sexuality to control and now being controlled by it….
Fellini and his costume / set designer Danilo Donati has the film though. They add such levels and layers of mise en scene as to have sculpted a masterwork of visual storytelling. The plastic sea is a marvel and one that underscores so much of the context of the film. It is a space that is as false as Casanovas urges and desires. The fake space is dreamlike but as if belonging to a nightmare. It is opressive at one time and then at another it is fantastical. The addition of subtle sexual motifs is also profound. The hidden penises and flowing cocks of a bull, give the audience the uncomfortable feeling that Casanova world is false. We see these as the places in which nothing is considered except sex. He has become circus performer and side show like the creatures that in the end frequent the spaces and the places he finds himself. A work like this is magic to behold.
From the very unnatural of places to the very unnatural of people. These are as interesting. They have faces and voices that rasp and flash at the screen. They add to the descent that Casanova finds himself in. The horror of the space and place is also reflected in their eyes. Casanova desires and claims sick woman, Nuns, Old Woman, Giants, Hunchbacks and a gaggle of freaks. He descends so far as to be as repugnent as those that he sleeps with. The people pushing him on are as false also as the world he lives in. They are over made up and over dressed. They look like a plague out break hit their town but the survived. Only just mind. Mixed with the sex scenes this becomes absurd and upsetting. I love the use of a mechnical bird to illustrate his sexual gyrations. It shows how false his world has become. It also represnets how mechanical the people he is with are. They look like freaks but are also using sex as a device. When he has sex with a robot it completes his aimless and empty sexual desire. It is as if his mechanical drive and urge of nature connected to build a perfect companion.
A master piece that must be watched by anyone that loves film, talking about film, the art of the screen, acting, directing, story telling or just a surreal trip into the empty world of sexual obssesiveness. Think porn stars of the past, just as empty and vacant but with beautiful clothes.