From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Fellini's Casanova (Il Casanova di Federico Fellini) is a 1976 Italian film by director Federico Fellini. It starred Daniel Emilfork. A scene with Chesty Morgan was not included in the final cut of the film. It was adapted from the autobiography of Giacomo Casanova, the 18th century adventurer and writer.
The film opens with a carnival in Venice as a prelude to a series of erotic encounters that follow Giacomo Casanova through the cities of 18th century Europe. It is during this festival that a gigantic bust fails to rise from the water, which is taken as a bad omen. Casanova is then introduced as he defiles a fake nun for the pleasure of a rich voyeur; Casanova succeeds in entertaining him, but he is frustrated that the man finds no interest in his alchemical research and further scheming. As he rows back to mainland, Casanova is arrested, judged and imprisoned by the High Court over his famed debauchery.
During his time in prison, Casanova reminisces of his affair with a seamstress and later on one of her servants, Anna Maria, who is bound by frequent fainting and requires constant bloodletting. He eventually consummates his desire to be with Anna Maria. Back in prison, Casanova escapes through the rooftops and exiles himself from Venice, being taken into the Paris court of the Madame d'Urfé. The Madame, an aged woman, enthralled by Casanova's apparent knowledge of alchemy, wishes to transform her soul into a man's through ritualistic intercourse with him (an act that requires the presence of a younger woman in the room, so that Casanova can get aroused). Casanova then moves to the court of a hunchback, Du Bois, in between taking charge of a beautiful girl—"the love of [his] life"—Henriette. Du Bois puts on a homosexual performance for his guests that unsettles some of his guests and Casanova is brought to tears as Henriette plays some music. The lovers vow fidelity to each other, but the following morning Henriette has disappeared. Du Bois informs Casanova that an emissary of a far-away court has reclaimed Henriette, and she's left her bidding that Casanova not attempt following her.
While in London, an aged Casanova is robbed by two women and he attempts suicide by drowning himself in the Thames. A vision of a giantess and two dwarves detracts him, and follows them to a Frost fair, where he arm-wrestles the giantess—a princess—and later pays to watch her bathe with the dwarves. Casanova resumes his travelling the following day. He frequents a deranged party at Lord Talou's in Rome, where he wins a bet with a stagecoach driver, Righetto, over how many orgasms he can have in one hour. The competition brings him higher acclaim. In Germany he falls in love with an alchemist's daughter, Isabella, who fails to keep up with an appointment to go to Dresden with him; Casanova instead partakes in an orgy within the hostel he's been stranded. He has a brief, chance encounter with his enstranged mother in a theater. He then moves to a court in Württemberg, where his desire to be taken seriously as a writer/inventor are frustrated by the court's orgiastic, wild nature. It is here that he meets Rosalba, a mechanical doll with whom he shares a dance and later on goes to bed with.
Times goes by and an old Casanova finds himself librarian to Count Waldstein at his castle in Dux. Life at the castle is more than frustrating for Casanova, as he is made eat with other servants and does not get the respect nor the food he claims to deserve. Waldstein's manservant, Faulkircher, and his lover Vidarol, make him object of mockery and animosity. A portrait of him is hanged and defecated on. Later on, during a fervent poetry recital, a court member fails to suppress a giggle at Casanova, who, humiliated and disappointed, goes back up to his room. The final scene has a weary, bloodshot Casanova cringing in an armchair and recounting a recent dream. In this dream, Casanova is back in Venice. He catches a glimpse of the giant bust seen in the beginning of the film, buried under thick layers of ice in the river. He chases the ghosts of his past lovers, all of whom disappear. An ornate stagecoach beckons him to join its passengers. He finally meets with Rosalba, the mechanical doll, once again. They quietly dance with each other.
Fellini’s Casanova is often noted for its symbolic, highly stylised mise en scène and the casting of Donald Sutherland in the lead role. By using a range of visual effects Fellini attempted to depict Casanova as a debauched figure incapable of displaying any genuine emotion.
This Fellini-esque signature is most noticeable in Sutherland’s acting and appearance which was made overtly graphic at the director's request. Other unusual techniques include a scene where Sutherland rows across a stormy sea made from black plastic sheets.
Fellini’s dislike of the character was well documented and in one interview he even referred to exposing "the void" of Casanova's life. Consequently, Fellini’s interpretation goes against the more traditional notion of Casanova as an enlightened gadabout.
- Federico Fellini
- Cinema of Italy
- Giacomo Casanova
- Histoire de ma vie, Casanova's autobiography
- Carnival of Venice