Federico Fellini cut his teeth in the Italian neorealism movement, beginning by writing screenplays (most notably for Rome, Open City) before stepping behind the camera. After a few inconsistent early efforts he soon found his own unique style, going on to direct such classics as La Strada, 8 ½, The Nights of Cambiria and La Dolce Vita. Whilst his earlier work is much-lauded, his later output is patchy. Released in 1971, Casanova falls into the later. Whilst there are still moments or genius, it occasionally descends into self-indulgent messiness.
Set in the 18th Century, Casanova (Donald Sutherland) is at his peak as the film opens during the Venice Carnival, before we follow his amorous encounters across various European cities. After his imprisonment for lewd acts, Casanova begins to become increasingly frustrated by the lack of recognition he receives for his intellectual qualities. As he gets older he wrestles with his inability to love, becoming a ever-fading reflection of his former self; subject to ridicule and self-hate.
Fellini famously had an intense hatred for the character of Casanova and the film diverges from the historical accounts. However, somewhere during the filming his attitude softens and he begins to pity the frustrated Giacomo. The film itself is a gaudy mask of excess and self-loathing. Casanova is frequently messy but still contains enough of Fellini’s unique vision and inventiveness to warrant the investment. The great lover’s distress at his emotional vacuity and inability to earn respect is brilliantly depicted by Sutherland.
Casanova is released on Blu-ray by Mr Bongo on Monday.