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This surreal and colourful tale of the many conquests of legendary Venetian lover Giacomo Casanova (almost unrecognisable Donald Sutherland) is grotesque, fantastical, vulgar, and most certainly divisive. This is a movie that takes an almost parodying approach to Casanova and his abject displays of depravity can easily drive more sensitive viewers for the hills, yet the longer the film goes on, the more it seems to cast a strangely hypnotic spell that will leave one feeling oddly transfixed by the movie's end. The opening carnival scene that flops when a giant bust of Venus sinks to the bottom of the lagoon; the peepshow at a circus of travelling freaks that silently disappears come dawn; the massive concerto of organs played by men dangling on top of ladders; Casanova's strange dance with a mechanical doll; his final lonely existence as an old man forgotten by everybody... all instil such a sense of atmosphere that make the whole film somehow finish off feeling more remarkable than it probably really is. Yet the unmitigated sense of carnivalesque garishness mixed in with the obvious artistry involved (at once seemingly a stage play and at another the most sumptuous costume drama ever), it is not so easy to fully dismiss the film despite what its surface banalities may suggest.
At its heart, the film is about loneliness and of Casanova's inability to truly ever love despite his mythic reputation and the many women he has seduced in his life. It is a tragedie melancolique of a man with a high regard for himself, but who will ultimately never feel true fulfilment from his attempts to ward off old age and death via his sexual escapades, unwilling to heed the illusionary artificiality of such a desire - the embodiment of this recognition being his unwillingness to bed the mechanical puppet as something that "should not be defiled," an image that will then return in the very final scene as Casanova's loss and loneliness receives its final, dream-like denouement. Regardless, it's still safe to say this movie is definitely not for everybody, and most certainly is not an advisable one as an entrypoint to Federico Fellini's work. But in many ways this bittersweet explosion of cinema is definitely unforgettable - one way or another. Which one it is, is up to you. Features a fantastic score by Nino Rota. Incidentally, this was also one of three films, whose negatives got partially stolen when thieves wanted to get their hands on Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salo" (the third film was the Western "A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe" I've reviewed elsewhere here), which necessitated the re-shooting of the whole opening carnival scene. (c) berlioz 2014