Criterion Prediction #250: Fellini’s Casanova, by Alexander Miller
Title: Fellini’s Casanova
Director: Federico Fellini
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Tina Aumont, Carmen Scarppita, Clara Algranti
Synopsis: Casanova is a fantastical interpretation of Giacomo Casanova’s (Sutherland) life. Much of his trysts and philandering are recounted through his reminiscences while imprisoned for “an affront to religion.” However, his eventual escape, finds him traversing Europe from one bawdy conquest to another with all manner of colorful characters.
Critique: Easily one of Fellini’s most indulgent affairs, Casanova is brimming with ribald opulence and childish bawdiness. Yet his sensibilities are just charming enough to lull you in before he rides this overstuffed affair over the cliff. Of course, Fellini’s Casanova is going to be loaded with sex. It’s the kind of sex that you’d expect from Fellini in that it’s the pranksterish, cartoonish, sometimes childish type of eroticism that lends the film its charm.
“Erotic” might be a stretch when we see Sutherland’s grinding and humping. The groans and facial expressions of Casanova and his companions are closer to that of Tex Avery. When someone reaches a climax, you almost expect to see steam coming from their ears to match their cross-eyed panting. The intentional deflation of titillation is thanks to Fellini being boyishly coy; a deviation from more explicit fare is another example of the director’s intuitions working to the film’s benefit, and our lead rises to the occasion of this admittedly weird interpretation of the source material.
Sutherland plays it off with his singular appeal, even if he looks uncomfortable in all the makeup and outfits, which are so extravagant you might think you’ve seen them on RuPaul’s Drag Race. If we’re going to examine the films with a more modern context, there’s this warbling glint of gender fluidity. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were a small contingent of adoration of Casanova amongst the LBGTQ community.
There’s much to enjoy throughout the 155-minute runtime, daunting as it might seem; Fellini doesn’t skimp on the visual pageantry. The gallery bizarre of characters, dazzlingly colorful sets, costumes, and historical atmosphere will hold the attention of practically any viewer, but the commitment to fully ingratiate oneself into the film might be relegated to the “for fans only” category – in that the story doesn’t give you much to hold on to. Casanova teeters between the spellbinding presence of Juliet of the Spirits and the orgiastic sorcery that made Satyricon unforgettable. Juliet of the Spirits enchants both the senses and the emotions while Satyricon wallows in psychedelic excess; they both transmit a vibrant balance of the director’s authorship.
If Casanova’s aesthetic bravura is incontestable, it also feels like Fellini’s sided with his visual stylistic flair of style over his technical. The expected roaming, curious camerawork of Giuseppe Rotunno (Amarcord, Satyricon, All That Jazz) doesn’t have the transportive wonder we’re accustomed to. That non-pervy voyeurism that make Roma, Satyricon and Amarcord such lively fun is missing here and it’s a significant handicap.
And with a film so full of the director’s trademark “carnival-of-life” point of view, it feels like we’re glued to the ground when all we want to do is fly.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: There are rumors of a Fellini set coming to the Criterion Collection after the much-hyped “wacky drawing” that hints at the 2020 line-up of speculated movies in line for the treatment. Hopefully, this will include the director’s offbeat, occasionally flawed but compelling 1976 epic. As there’s a restored blu-ray in the works overseas, there are various versions to contend with, and that’s one area where we trust The Criterion Collection to get it right. Not to mention, Casanova’s two language tracks, Italian and English, are significant because we get Sutherland’s voice on the English “dub” (quotes because most Italian movies at this time were post-sync anyway), something that might seem trivial but is important to preserve.