English Title: Fellini’s Casanova
Original Title: Il Casanova di Federico Fellini
Country: Italy, USA
Language: English, Italian
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Director: Federico Fellini
Music: Nino Rota
Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Clarissa Mary Roll
Sandra Elaine Allen
Dan van Husen
Hans van de Hoek
Fellini’s cinematic vitality was undeniably on the ebb in his later years of filmmaking, and when a director’s name can blatantly headline in the film’s title, a common demonstration is that he has the autocratic power over his work without any compromise, so it is a good sign for the director’s devotees, but sometimes, it is also prone to backfire often due to the auteur’s unbridled ego. And FELLINI’S CASANOVA is an exemplar of both cases.
Fellini is quite antipathetic towards his centre figure, the Venetian gadabout Giacomo Casanova, maybe partly originates from jealousy, it is a man who is an emblem of libidinal licentiousness (with women), any heterosexual man has the right to be envious.
So loosely based on Casanova’s autobiography HISTOIRE DE MA VIE, Fellini unleashes his uncurbed visual creativity to conjure up a series of spectacular mise-en-scène with a hankering for irony and symbolism, often in the form of a theatric piece. The opening gambit, a Carnival in Venice, is onerously undertook to be stupendous and eye-opening, and it is really hard to resist the enthralling allure in Casanova’s each and every episode, sex activity is presumably the norm in it, but his on-screen virility brings some visual fatigue pretty soon (due to an R rating) and his action fades into mechanical repetition (certainly, the change of headwear is a great diversion). After all, the avant-garde production design (using plastic bags to imitate a choppy sea), the 18th Century exquisite art decoration (whether accurate or not), the outlandish period costumes and flamboyant make-up (especially during the lavish banquet set) usurp the crown as the legitimate attention-grabber. With garnishment like Nino Rota’s stirring score and literature reference such as Tonino Guerra’s La Grande Mouna, 2 hour and 35 minutes is not that long at all.
It is also a career-defining role for Donald Sutherland, although never really being heralded (so does his lengthy and unceasing career), under some visage alteration (a fake nose and a shaved head) his Casanova is not devilishly handsome, may not even physically resemble his character, but he exerts his devotion thoroughly through his bulged eyes, which fixate on his preys with torrid resolution, simultaneously sinister and passionate. Fellini is in no mood to give Casanova a hagiography treatment, so chiefly, Sutherland’s effort has been unfairly debased to ridicule and grandstanding, Casanova is much more than a womaniser who is unable to love, wilfully, Fellini refuses to disclose the other side of his life, such as a bold adventurer and a luminous writer.
Female objects are never the focal point of the film, they are the objects of desire in the menagerie for our hormone-driven protagonist to conquer with intercourse, only the Angelina the giantess (Sandra Elaine Allen) and Rosalba the mechanical doll (Leda Lojodice) shed dim light on certain pathos for the fate of Casanova besides their eye-popping presence.
Altogether, FELLINI’S CASANOVA is majestic on scale, burlesque on appearance, biased in its stance, but never an awkward anomaly in Fellin’s absurdist cannon.