Fellini’s Casanova (1976)

“A man who never speaks ill of women does not love them. For to understand them and to love them one must suffer at their hands. Then and only then can you find happiness at the lips of your beloved.”

‘Fellini’s Casanova’, directed by Federico Fellini in 1976, is a film from late in the director’s career but doesn’t lack the colour and visual poetry of his earlier movies. It is a biopic of the famous Venetian adventurer showing vignettes from his career as a shallow gatherer of sexually transmitted diseases. We see the character, played outrageously by Donald Sutherland, as he shags his way through every conceivable scenario and gradually decays in front of our eyes. As with ‘La Dolce Vita’ and ‘Fellini’s Roma’, this film is all about the pageantry and the spectacle from the amazing opening scene in Venice to a bizarre scene involving church organs in Germany. The sex scenes themselves are not actually all that explicit, focussing instead on Sutherland’s sweaty face and rolling eyes, whilst cutting between him and a weird mechanical bird that appears to be a talisman for his libido. For all its farcical charm though, it’s also a moving film. I felt drawn into the story of a man looking for love but incapable of feeling it.Fellini famously disapproved of the character and this is evident in the grotesque performance the director eeks out of Sutherland. Gradually though, as the film progresses, you start to see some sympathy and even understanding developing between the director and his subject. The final scene in which Casanova dances with his final sexual conquest, a clockwork mannequin, is actually a rather powerful comment on an empty and wasted life chasing shadows. As some who has experienced online dating in the past few years, this moment, for some reason, hit home.

Would I recommend it? Yes – of course I would – it’s Fellini! Watch with ‘Roma’ or perhaps one of the biopics I’ve talked about before – it has hints of both Jarman’s ‘Caravaggio’ and ‘Amadeus’.


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