Sunday, January 30, 2022

#2,701. Fellini's Casanova (1976) - Federico Fellini Triple Feature


Fellini’s Casanova kicks off with one of those great scenes the Maestro did so well; a carnival, set on the streets of 18th-century Venice, with hundreds of extras parading around in colorful costumes. More than a great opening, this sequence sets the stage perfectly for this 1976 film, which is chock full of all the imagination, wit, and, yes, the audacity so prominently featured in many of Fellini’s later works (Roma, Amarcord, Satyricon).

A loose, often unstructured account of the life of Giacomo Casanova (played by Donald Sutherland), who many considered the greatest lover in all of Italy, Fellini’s Casanova whisks us to some of Europe’s most prominent cities, starting with Venice, where the title character has a rendezvous with a nun (while her rich boyfriend watches through a peephole), then is arrested and thrown into prison for his lewd behavior.

Casanova eventually escapes and says goodbye to Venice forever, traveling first to Paris, where he is the honored guest of Madame d’Urti (Cicely Browne), who asks the Italian lover to impregnate her. It’s here that Casanova also meets the love of his life, the gorgeous Henriette (Tina Aumont), though the affair is short-lived.

An encounter with two women in London, who rob Casanova and leave him in the streets, leads the fiery Italian to attempt suicide by drowning himself in the Thames. Before he can finish himself off, however, Casanova spots a giantess (Sandra Elaine Allen) and her two dwarf companions resting by the side of the river, and decides to follow them back to the circus, where the Giantess, known as Princess Angelina, arm wrestles men for a living (she has never lost).

Casanova next visits Switzerland, where he has a brief fling with an alchemist’s daughter (Olimpia Carlisi), then it’s on to Germany, first Dresden, where he runs into his mother (Zanetta FArussi) in a crowded theater, then Wurttemberg, whose royal court displeases him, though he does meet - and has sex with - a mechanical doll named Rosalba (Leda Lejodice).

From this synopsis, you can assume (quite correctly) that Fellini’s Casanova is not so much a straightforward account of its main subject’s life as it is a fantastical journey through the surreal, with moments that are equal parts erotic (though the sex scenes are shot in such a way that they’re more comical than arousing) and bizarre (the sexual encounter with the mechanical doll being at the top of a very long list).

Sutherland is quite good as Casanova, convincing as both a great lover and a sophisticate, though the real stars of Fellini’s Casanova are Danilo Donati (the production and costume designer), composer Nino Rota (whose music compliments the film’s vibrant imagery), cinematographer Giusseppe Routuno, and of course Fellini himself, whose vivid imagination brings a carnival-like atmosphere that resonates throughout the entire movie.

Those looking for a structured biopic will find themselves quickly frustrated; everyone else should settle in for what will prove to be one very wild, very entertaining ride.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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