Was the man a sexual healer, or a popinjay? Don't look to Federico Fellini for answers.

Whatever this magnificent display of cinematic posturing might be, a biopic it is not. Casanova becomes a metaphor for the vanity and arrogance of Italy's pampered youth, a fantasy created in the aftermath of La Dolce Vita.

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Cruelly dismissed by critics in 1976, the film is as rich in visual imagery as any of Fellini's extravaganzas. His imagination is let loose over these glorious studio sets to ride bareback across convention like the devil of mischief.

Casanova, the Venetian, renowned as a philanderer and yet strangely outside, like a stalker of shadows, is entranced by his visage in the looking glass. If he had been a Shakespearean hero, he would have a gathering of male friends around him, as laddish and loud as any of Romeo's chums. He has none, because in his company there is no accommodation for rivalry. He sees himself as Alexander of the Bedchamber, for whom the concept of emotional commitment becomes as fearful as slavery.

As with any great general, his life is constantly on the move from one conquest to another. Jailed by The Inquisition, he escapes over the roof of the prison and spends the rest of his life in exile, seducing his way through the courts of Europe. For someone so enamoured by women, his sexual technique is surprisingly unimaginative, although he is master of foreplay, the preening charade of infatuation that allows him to pose elegantly in elaborate costumes.

Whether performing a fuck match at an orgy in Rome's British Embassy, or enduring the stifling etiquette of a London dinner party, Fellini crowds every scene with glorious grotesques, fresh - or not so fresh, more likely - from the circus of his mind. There are unforgettable moments, such as the lowering of the chandeliers at the opera house in Rome and the ravishing of a mechanical doll on a silk bedecked four-poster bed, and grandiose performances that remain livid in the memory.

Donald Sutherland, still glowing from Klute and Don't Look Now, is partially obscured by a mask, created every day by the magicians in make-up, that gives his face the smooth, sculptured beauty of a porcelain angel. He transforms himself into a creature of the purest vanity, in training for the making of love, rather than love itself, and choreographed in the manners of a dancer. He is - how you say? - a revelation.

Reviewed on: 10 Nov 2005
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Fellini's Casanova packshot
The imagined vanities, conquests, travels and conceits of a richly attired sexual adventurer.
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Director: Federico Fellini

Writer: Federico Fellini, Bernardino Zapponi

Starring: Donald Sutherland, Tina Aumont, Cicely Brown, Carmen Scarpitta, Clara Algranti

Year: 1976

Runtime: 148 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy/US


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