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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2014 Competition

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Casanova Variations: a wall-breaking high-concept film


- Multi-hyphenate Michael Sturminger employs John Malkovich as Casanova in a high-concept mix of opera, theatre and film

Casanova Variations: a wall-breaking high-concept film

Austrian theatre, opera and film writer and director Michael Sturminger brought his latest production, Casanova Variations [+see also:
film profile
, to the San Sebastián Official Selection. 

Based on the title character’s actual memoirs, and operas by Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte, the high-concept mix of the forms the director has been focusing on stars John Malkovich as Casanova, and also as himself. In fact, this is not only a work that tears down the fourth wall, but by the end of the film, audiences will have seen many other walls fall. But, however fascinating and lavish, it leaves the viewer with an empty feeling.

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Sturminger and Malkovich toured very successfully with the opera/theatre play that is the actual basis for the film. Malkovich plays Casanova near the end of his life. Confined in a mansion owned by an aristocrat friend, he is visited by a baroness, Elisa (Veronica Ferres), who offers to provide him with financial security until the end of his life in exchange for his memoirs.

Simultaneously, an opera on the same subject (excerpts from The Marriage of FigaroDon Giovanni and Così Fan Tutte) is being performed at the Lisbon Opera House. Malkovich and Ferres are on stage, but sing only some of the parts – this job is entrusted to an actual baritone, Florian Boesch, and the role of Elisa is sung by Miah Persson

The performance itself is where the fourth wall – the first of many – is broken, with actors using the auditorium to extend the play. The opera itself is being filmed, and people filming the opera are being filmed. And at one point, there is an overlapping of Casanova’s and Malkovich’s personas, hinting both at Being John Malkovich and at Dangerous Liaisons. And though Malkovich does not necessarily identify with the legendary chevalier, Sturminger certainly liked the idea of using the actor’s image to add to the already complex concept.

The concept is indeed more than interesting, and executed with perfection. But once the viewers have reached the first few of its several layers, there should be more meat to stop them from going hungry. Unfortunately, with all the fillings it has, at 118 minutes long, Casanova Variations ultimately feels rather hollow – even if you are a huge fan of both Mozart and Malkovich.

Casanova Variations will certainly have a strong run at festivals and, as an event film par excellence, could also perform rather well in theatres, to eventually break yet another wall – by being played on television.

A co-production by France’s Alfama Films Production, Austria’s Amour Fou Vienna and Ulrich Seidl Filmproduktion, and Germany’s X-Filme Creative Pool, it is sold internationally by Alfama.  

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