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Austria/Italy/Spain 2009
Directed by
Carlos Saura
120 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

I, Don Giovanni

Although audiences with a knowledge of opera will have a head start, Carlos Saura’s account to the creation of Mozart’s famous work is gorgeous to look at and is of sufficient interest to overcome its dramatic limitations. .

Saura and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, with whom the director collaborated on Goya in Bordeaux (1999), make effective use of lighting and transparent screens to shift between the “real life”events depicted and their artistically transformed operatic equivalents in what is a rich essay on the art mirroring life theme and 18th century manners and mores. Lorenzo Da Ponte (Lorenzo Balducci) is a young poet and writer (as well as being a priest) exiled from Venice for rakish behaviour and penning heretical verses. His mentor, the legendary Casanova (Tobias Moretti), arranges his introduction to Viennese court composer, Salieri (Ennio Fantastichini), who in turms fobs him off as librettist on the newly arrived and lesser-favoured Mozart (Lino Guanciale). Together they create The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. The latter is the main subject of Saura’s film which maintains that it was largely based on the amorous adventures of Casanova and Da Ponte, with the lives of the two men diverging once Da Ponte falls under the influence of the beautiful and pure Annetta (Emilia Verginelli).

Saura has long specialized in films dealing with music and his skill and love for music shines through here. Perhaps it is a Spanish thing but given the maturity of his own artistic skill it is somewhat disconcerting that he chooses such lightweight, albeit photogenic, players for his main characters. Recalling strongly Forman’s 1984 benchmark, Amadeus, Balducci and Guanciale are very much in the contemporary pop style and this lack of verisimilitude is not helped by the fact that although the script makes much of Da Ponte’s dissolute lifestyle we actually see none of it. Tobias Moretti on the other hand looks the part of the aging roué, Casanova, but hardly seems to be much in the seduction stakes. If Saura’s film is more effective as style than substance, this is still quite an achievement.

DVD Extras: Vittorio Storaro’s Image Composition 1:2, in which the legendary cinematographer expounds on his theory and practice of visual composition; Theatrical trailer.

Available from: Madman




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