Sunday, 6 September 2015

Fellini's Casanova (1976)

Wild, weird, fabulously creative and never less than colourful, Federico Fellini’s film of the life of the infamous eighteenth century self-confessed alchemist, spy, philosopher, politician, economist, gambler and eroticist comes to Blu-ray courtesy of the curiously-named Mr Bongo Films.

Starting with Casanova being employed to satisfy a young lady in an isolated mausoleum while her husband spies them through the eye of a wall-mounted fish, our hero is subsequently arrested and thrown in jail. After learning of a few past (and on the whole rather weird) amorous adventures, from there we follow him as he travels the courts of eighteenth century Europe, finding them all to exist in varying degrees of Fellini-esque insanity until he reaches the end of his life in the employ of a nobleman who has Reggie Nalder for a butler.

FELLINI’S CASANOVA (the literal translation of the Italian onscreen title here) is over two and a half hours long, but the running time absolutely breezes by. There is so much to see and marvel at, and Donald Sutherland’s central performance in the title role is as endearing as it is astounding. The movie is considered by many to be one of the best of the 1970s and I cannot argue with that. The production design is amazing, as are the costumes, and fortunately there’s enough madness to stop CASANOVA from becoming an expensive-looking drag.

Oh yes, the madness. I’ll admit I’ve never warmed to Fellini - I even had trouble getting through his Toby Dammit segment of HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES. CASANOVA, however, might well be the most accessible of his work. Certainly I’d suggest it as a starting point for the beginner (which I consider myself to be, really). CASANOVA has been compared to the works of Ken Russell, but if so then it’s a more (gasp!) restrained Ken than the glamour-fuelled lunacy of something like LISZTOMANIA. 

Fans of 1970s cult film and TV will have fun spotting numerous familiar faces. As well as Reggie Nalder, a key role is played by Tina Aumont (from Sergio Martino’s TORSO), John Karlsen (ASYLUM EROTICA) plays a rich nobleman, as does Daniel Emilfork (the devil from Jean Brismee's 1971 THE DEVILS NIGHTMARE) and even Nicholas Smith - Mr Rumbold from ARE YOU BEING SERVED - turns up playing Casanova’s brother. Add in such visually arresting wonders such as a sea made from bin liners and a deliriously insane organ-playing scene near the end, Fellini’s usual collection of dwarfs and giants (yes there’s a circus interlude), and a wine-carrying contest that seems to have been inspired by popular TV series IT’S A KNOCKOUT and you have the recipe for a fine evening of delirious entertainment.

Note that so far I have not mentioned how erotic the film is. That’s because, despite the title and subject matter, it isn’t. Not one jot. Anything to do with sex in this film is approached with a Gilliamesque accent on the grotesque, combined with a comedy approach that makes something like  CARRY ON BEHIND look like a masterwork of erotic subtlety. The ever-present twirly clockwork bird, the silly music and the endless bouncing around will do little to satisfy anyone buying this film in the hope of titillation. Did I mention Chesty Morgan is in this?

Mr Bongo’s Blu-ray looks lovely, and does superb justice to Danilo Donati’s jaw-dropping costume and production design. The running time of the version here is 154 minutes. There don’t appear to be any extras, but just having this lengthy and superbly decadent Fellini film on Blu-ray is joy enough. And I never thought I’d ever find myself saying that. 

Mr Bongo is releasing Federico Fellini's CASANOVA on Blu-ray on 7th September 2015

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