Casanova, Last Love: Charmless, by David Bax
Benoît Jacquot makes a lot of movies. His newest, Casanova, Last Love, is the fourth I’m reviewing for this site in the last ten years and that doesn’t even represent half of his output in that time. Given his prolificity and the fact that his movies often feature French stars beloved by American arthouse-going audiences, he’s flown surprisingly under the radar in the U.S. throughout his career. But those in the know will feel a tinge of recognition during one of the new film’s key scenes, in which characters lose and find one another in a large hedge maze, Jacquot’s handheld camera following them just like it did to Virginie Ledoyen through a hotel in 1995’s A Single Girl or Léa Seydoux around Versailles in 2012’s Farewell, My Queen. Alas, Casanova, Last Love doesn’t come close to the qualities and pleasures of those two films. The uncomfortable truth about making movies in quantities as large as Jacquot does is that, every so often, one of them’s gonna be a stinker.
In a useless framing device, Casanova (Vincent Lindon) relates the story of the one woman, in all of his years as a master seducer, that he truly loved. The bulk of the movie is a flashback, then, though not one too far in the past given that Lindon is not a young man himself. Casanova comes to London and is almost immediately infatuated with a prostitute, Marianne de Charpillon (Stacy Martin). She won’t be easily won over, though, and forces Casanova to put in more time and exertion than he’s accustomed to.
Lindon has worked with Jacquot in past movies like 2015’s Diary of a Chambermaid and 1998’s The School of Flesh (plus some I haven’t seen) but is best remembered by me in the role of another grumbly charmer in Claire Denis’ Friday Night. And Stacy Martin has been an unforgettable presence in films like Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac and Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux (plus look for her in the upcoming horror flick The Night House). And the great Valeria Golino even shows up to steal a few scenes as another continental refugee in London; she and Lindon have one of those great scenes where people in fabulous clothes have a private conversation while performing a choreographed group dance at a fancy ball. I love those.
So what I’m saying is that it’s tempting not to want to blame the cast for Casanova, Last Love‘s shortcomings (though perhaps more on that later). The real problem, on Jacquot’s part, seems to be an over-commitment to a guiding formalist principle. To tell a story about Casanova, the director seems to have decided, is to tell a story about appetites and the pursuit of their satiation.
In so doing, he made a visceral, physical film that crosses the boundary from sensual to just plain unpleasant, starting right from Casanova’s arrival in London whereupon one of the first things he sees is a man shitting in a public park in broad daylight. We see it too. The whole movie feels like someone chewing directly into a microphone.
That off-putting feeling of everything just being too much extends to Casanova himself. Here, maybe Lindon actually is somewhat at fault, playing the character as such a judgmental snob that he comes off more as a douchebag pickup artist than some legendary lover. Or maybe it’s just that the more than 30 year age difference between Lindon and Martin is a constant reminder of what a creepy old lech he’s being. Whatever it is, there’s none of the comic awareness of Jacquot’s 3 Hearts (2014), in which Benoît Poelvoorde plays a man who’s also maybe not as much of a great guy as he’d like to think. As a result, I spent most of Casanova, Last Love not hoping the guy gets the girl but hoping the girl gets away safely.