The Casanova Variations (2014) | San Sebastian Film Festival

September 21st, 2014
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director/Writer: Michael Sturminger

Cast: John Malkovich, Fanny Ardant, Veronica Ferres

Professional Singers: Sophie Klussmann, Daniel Schmutzhard

150min   Biopic/opera

John Malkovich is well-suited to the role of maverick 18th century serial seducer Giacomo Casanova (apparently he had a modest 120 lovers). Long-term collaborater Michael Sturminger has cast him in this strangely weird but rather enjoyable ‘chamber-opera in a musical biopic’ where he reminisces over his misspent youth, to a rousing Mozart score. His accent has echoes of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s in the recent Nymphomaniac (maybe they shared the voice coach) but his presence is more irascible than coaxing: admittedly he’s reached the end of his life and is angrily desperate and ailing rather than sensual and playful about the game of love here. He flails around desperate for satisfaction: but nowadays he ‘can’t get none’, so he writes his memoirs looking back in unrequited lust to his previous dalliances with paramours, played with talent and vivaciousness by Veronica Ferres (Elisa) and a beguiling Fanny Ardant (Lucrecia) and remembered in flashback with well-known operatic vignettes and arias sung and played by professional singers overseen by Martin Haselbock.

Sturminger’s script is adapted from Casanova’s ‘Histoire de Ma Vie’ with some embellishments but gives more of an impression than a well-formed narrative. The Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte score plays rather like a selection of Classic FM snippets. The elegant costumes and sets by Andreas Donhauser and Renate Martin (Paradise: Love) and DoP André Szankowski’s (The Mysteries of Lisbon) luscious visuals are what ultimately makes this a ravishing and mildly entertaining, if slightly bizarre, piece of filmmaking. MT reviewed at Cannes 2014


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