Review: Casanova Variations


I’ve always been vaguely interested in attending an opera. But after Michael Sturminger’s film Casanova Variations, I’m rethinking my own curiosity. Sturminger’s film follows two intertwined narratives about Giacomo Casanova: one a period piece about a woman (possibly an ex-lover) trying to get the rights to publish Casanova’s memoirs, and one about the opera production of the incident playing out in modern times. Both versions of Casanova are played by John Malkovich, who does his best with the material but mostly comes off as just being John Malkovich. This is kind of the point ... I think. The problem is that it becomes hard to discern the reasoning behind either of these narratives, let alone both.

Why am I supposed to care about any “variations” on Casanova? I kept expecting the film to make its point made to me, but I was left disappointed time and time again. The film’s dual narratives, filmed using distracting handheld cameras for some reason, never really takes off. The further problem is that the narrative snooze-fest is interrupted by longer scenes of actual opera, which translate about as well to the screen as watching Malkovich take a fifteen-minute nap off-stage.

It seems that Sturminger, however, finds it all very interesting -- the opera, the historical figure of Casanova, the Malkovich -- but it just does not translate to the audience very well. The audience of the opera even seems bored with the whole production, which is probably not a good thing to show the movie audience who is ALSO having to sit through it all. 

The meta-humor of stunt-casting Malkovich as an opera singer seems wasted, since we’ve already seen it done better in Being John Malkovich. When a character who calls Dangerous Liaisons her “sexual awakening” asks Malkovich if he’s gay, it’s clearly supposed to be for a laugh ... but all it does is make me think of Being John Malkovich and how I’d rather be watching that film. The period scenes of Casanova do not work much better. In fact, they also make me think of better films, like Fellini’s Casanova. Why am I spending time on this far inferior “variation” of those other films anyway?

All of this begs the question: what is the purpose of this film? It seems to be a clever concept if you were talking about it at a dinner party, but making a two-hour film out of the idea is too much of a stretch. I’m not even sure what audience this film should be marketed to. It seems too loose for intellectuals and too stuffy for the film-going public. It certainly does nothing to entice the audience into letting itself into their approval, instead seeming more an act of intellectual public masturbation than seductive love act; in other words, it’s less Casanova in the bedroom, and more jerking off in the shadows off-stage. Ego may be helpful in attracting lovers or getting a concept financed for a movie, but it certainly isn’t much fun to watch.