CAPSULE: This is a film that intentionally keeps radically changing its style from stage play to opera to present-day in period costuming. This intentionally disorients the viewer and has a little fun with the character of Giacomo Casanova. Director Michael Sturminger co-authored the philosophically leaning script based, of course, on the life of the notorious libertine Giacomo Casanova, who claims to have seduced and bedded a thousand women. The film is something of a puzzle with reportedly inside jokes. (I say "inside" because I am on the outside.) The music by Mozart might be the most welcome element of the film. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Giacomo Casanova, the mega-libertine, is writing his memoirs. A publisher wants to buy the memoirs and publish them, but Casanova does not want them to be public knowledge. That is how the story begins and at least for a few minutes the audience should be able to follow the plot. But that will not be true for long.
CASANOVA VARIATIONS is a puzzle box of a film. It is one or perhaps multiple stories told on three or more tracks of storytelling. One track is in the form of a Mozart opera (staged at the Sao Carlos opera house of Lisbon), though this opera is really a fraud--pieces of several Mozart operas. Malkovich has no singing voice, incidentally, and that plays into what is going on. In the opera Malkovich is playing Casanova with a ravenous appetite for sex, while his outer self philosophizes.
Another track is a stage play telling what seems to be the same story. Yet another track is John Malkovich backstage playing himself in the present. It is not clear any of this is consistent with anything else. Just about every scene is a variation of what we have seen previously and Malkovich as Casanova philosophizes about his need for variation. It is not clear what writers Michael Sturminger (who also directed) and Markus Schleinzer (who didn't) are really trying to say beyond expanding the limits of cinematic expression and perhaps having a good time with the audience. I am sure nobody expected it all to work for the viewer. The telling is full of in-jokes that require special knowledge. When Casanova collapses on stage he is brought back to life by an 18th century defibrillator.
It might have helped the viewer if the portion of the film done as opera would have been subtitled, but then it might have been obvious what was being sung was mismatched pieces of other operas sewn together. To further complicate issues there are flashbacks thrown in that are not entirely obvious. This is a film that is probably not intended to be followed, but to show off the visual imagery and give the viewer some beautiful Mozart music. Malkovich as Casanova seems to be playing the dirty old man version of the dirty young man he played in DANGEROUS LIAISONS. In the end the story is about Malkovich as much as it is about Giacomo Casanova. If you are bothered by opera sung in Italian you might find it excessive.
I rate CASANOVA VARIATIONS +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Who really was the greatest seducer of all time? Technically that title would almost certainly go to Genghis Khan. I have been told that about one third of the Earth's current population bear DNA from Genghis Khan who considered rape his right as a conqueror. But perhaps no European can claim so many successful seductions as Giacomo Casanova.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2614400/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/casanova_variations
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2018 Mark R. Leeper