21 November 1999 | directjw
Without a doubt Fellini's best, and, ironically, most depressing film.
I totally disagree with the critical trend of discrediting Fellini's later films as symptomatic of his decline. Instead, I believe that Fellini's last films were actually his best. And Casanova, by far Fellin's worst reviewed film, is Fellin's masterpiece-- a sad, funny, wistful, grotesque, Rabelisian epic of a film.
In a way, Casanova is a foil to Fellini's earlier classic La Dolce Vita-- the main difference being that the former is more pessimistic in tone, while the latter is enfused with a youthful optimism. In a way, that's how the films of Fellini have progressed; his earlier films were filled with an almost child-like love for life (albeit with some very dark edges), while his later films became increasingly darker and more depressing. Strangely enough, Fellini's later films were also his best, both on a technical level, and in terms of thematic depth.
Casanova is not only the story of a man, it is also about a whole era-- an era of grand opulence and grand waste. Like in many of Fellini's other films, the protagonist of Casanova serves as a guide for us through a phantasmagoric carnival-like world. Casanova is depicted as a sexually-ravenuous, and deeply cynical man. He is constantly searching for some kind of image of the perfect woman-- an ideal which eventually leads to his own destruction.
Casanova is not a film for everyone-- despite having the usual Fellinisque scenes of ribaldry, Casanova is for the most part slowly paced (it reminds me of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon). Ultimately, Casanova, like Fellini's And the Ship Sails On, is about the passing of a golden age into oblivion. One leaves Casanova feeling both depressed, and yet somehow hopeful. Why?
Perhaps because like all great artists, Fellini realizes that in our darkest hours, we still can hold on to our memories of happier times.