Optimally, this should be watched directly after The Rise of Louis XIV by Rossellini. I’m such an idiot about royalty and history that I’d forgotten it was the same king until I looked it up after watching this. I do hope Serra makes films about the deaths of every Louis, so we can keep them all straight.

The King has an infected leg, but everyone’s too deferential to insist he get help or to suggest anything drastic like amputation, so he just lays there and slowly dies. Serra has finally decided that if nothing’s going to happen in his movies, at least they could stand to look nice, which is a huge step forward for him after the last one, but I’m not sure why I keep watching them. It’s attractively underlit, thanks to new cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg (The Challenge). Long takes, with an intriguing performance by Jean-Pierre Leaud, who’s like an overdressed baby. And it’s probably worth watching the entire movie for the great final line, which was also the title of Cinema Scope’s Cannes roundup article.

I didn’t recognize Patrick d’Assumçao (the guy who isn’t naked in Stranger by the Lake) as lead doctor Fagon, and IMDB is unenlightening about the other two guys who are always in the room, Marechal and servant Blouin.

Arthouse crapola.

And I don’t say that lightly. I didn’t much enjoy Serra’s Cervantes movie Honor de Cavelleria, so wouldn’t have high hopes for his Casanova-meets-Dracula movie either, except that it made the cover of Cinema Scope issue 56 and ever since Profit Motive, a CS cover recommendation is sacred to me.

Did Casanova even meet Dracula? I don’t know for sure, because either the movie or my video copy of it (possibly the same thing, since Serra shot Honor de Cavelleria on DV) was too dim and low-res to make out most details. But surely Casanova was a character in the movie – and it’s a good thing I read his Wikipedia before watching this or I would’ve got even less out of the movie. He published a book about his escape from prison (Story of My Flight) and an epic posthumous autobiography (Story of My Life), so that’s where this movie’s title comes from, though as far as I can tell he doesn’t die in it. Dracula may be a character in the movie (the Dracula novel was written a hundred years after Casanova’s death, but Dracula is immortal so I’ll forgive this). He isn’t named, but he bites a woman’s neck, and there’s a bunch of neck biting in the last half hour, either killing or vampiring the three women and/or Casanova’s friend Sancho Panza.

I think Serra is a historian and philosophy scholar and that’s fine but I don’t get his point. The most notable scenes feature Casanova shitting (then wiping himself, sniffing his hand and eating a biscuit) and having sad sex with some girl right before a window breaks. This beat Short Term 12 and Our Sunhi and When Evening Falls on Bucharest and Exhibition and What Now? Remind Me and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears for the top prize at Lav Diaz-led Locarno. Fellini’s Casanova is probably not very similar, but I should watch it soon since I’ve read the whole wikipedia article on the real Casanova in prep for this thing. Peranson mentions “over 440 hours of material,” gah!

Slant describes further:

Split into relatively discrete halves, each possessing its own distinct style, it slips from a bawdy, jovial tale of rumpled courtesans and layabout poets to one fixated fully on doom, immured in shadow-clogged compositions within the ancient, chilly darkness of the Carpathians. .. Positioning each [Casanova/Dracula] as the standard bearer for a specific philosophy, the film functions on a macro level as classical allegory, animating the late-18th-century shift from the rational to the romantic.

Serra, from the Cinema Scope cover story that convinced me to watch this:

Where do the characters find the actual satisfaction for their desire? In the mundane side, in the light side of Casanova, or in the more dark side of Dracula? And in the end it looks like Dracula wins, and people feel more pleasure in the pain, or in the guilty things, and perhaps the film is ultimately about the dark side of our lives. I wanted to make a film about the night, and what happens in the night, when real desires appear.

I live-rifftraxed the screening to my audience of birds. Possibly my copy WAS too dark, making the difference between “glamorously underlit” and “woefully underlit,” but that shouldn’t account for how little I enjoyed the movie compared to the rave critical reviews. At least Cahiers called it “as pretentious as it is insignificant,” and claims “Serra filmed in 1:33 and then reframed it in Scope – result, it’s ugly.”

N. Pinkerton’s review was the most fun to read:

As for the Casanova Meets Dracula setup, it’s something from the Jesús Franco reject pile, though Franco had more of an eye for peasant pulchritude, a better connection for castle rentals, and could do dreamy without drifting into the cataleptic. The movie begs comparisons, practically all of them disparaging – and Serra doesn’t help matters by likening himself in interviews to Pasolini.

Serra:

In the art world you have more freedom, and you can do whatever you want … because there nobody knows anything and there is a great amount of confusion there as to what is good or bad, or what is important or not, so I realized that I feel at home there.

“You have to follow my path even if you don’t understand it.”

Don Quixote thinks he’s a knight, enlists his neighbor as squire. Pancho is sleepy and despondent, Quixote is belligerent, but both are quite slow and seemingly dull-witted. Time goes slowly. Some nice natural-light photography, though.

Shot in part by Eduard Grau (A Single Man, Finisterrae). Mark Peranson apparently made a Serra making-of doc, but it’s about Birdsong despite being named Waiting for Sancho.

M. Peranson:

Honor de Cavalleria is a modernist, materialist, experiential film made with a supreme amount of confidence. It’s one of those films that periodically appears in a hostile, conformist environment – like a UFO landing – and causes viewers and critics to ponder how exactly films operate on spectators. … it is as if we are eavesdropping on the real inspirations for the dreamer Quixote and the earth-bound Sancho as they moseyed across the gorgeous landscape centuries ago, their language less important than the movement of their bodies.

Serra, who has a degree in Hispanic Philology:

We wanted to make a film on idealism. What then was the starting point of such a film? A beautiful novel dealing with that theme, that is to say Don Quixote. … This austere and conceptual atmosphere [of Bresson and Bergman] interested us. Young filmmakers usually have the stereotype of the urban film, current stories, themes dealing with young people. In order to go against that, we insisted on the classic film tradition, different from that of nowadays’ young cinema. We wanted to make a film poles apart from current cinema.

Serra again, on the look: “It’s shot in Mini DV, not HD or any high-end bullshit. … I don’t like the definition to be that high.” He quotes Lisandro Alonso and Blissfully Yours as influences.

The Pilgrim (1916, Frank Borzage)

A little western two-reeler with a good piano and violin score, starring Borzage as the humble, good-natured title character. Shadowplay: “I can think of few westerns where a good bit of the plot is devoted to healing a bad guy, who then departs the story without being bad again.” D. Sallitt: “The Pilgrim focuses on expressions, on using cinema to stop time and ponder the feelings that people can only half communicate.”

Jerks, Don’t Say Fuck (2001, Zhao Liang)

A punk-industrial music video with thrashy editing, military images and other weirdness. Video glitches, super-fast motion and repetition.

Bored Youth (2000, Zhao Liang)

Shirtless dude in blurry night vision breaks a lot of windows, just a ton of windows. the sound starts to go out of sync and echo. Editing slows way down, showing off the glorious digital video artifacts in low light. This goes on for seven minutes. Then: repeated shots of a squid catching a fish, the sound of machine-gun fire, and a demolition crew the next morning.

Four Women (1975, Julie Dash)

Music video for a Nina Simone song. Backlit dancer wrapped in a sheet for the intro, then different dances and clothes during the four parts of the piano-and-vocal section, all danced by Linda Young.

Bauca (2009, Albert Serra)

Fullscreen washes of color, edited to a symphonic piece. Cutting follows the music, but rarely right on the rhythm. Song ends suddenly and picture goes white.

Dignity (2008, Abderrahmane Sissako)

Interviewer asks different people to define dignity, and each does so silently.

Sissako: “I think it’s very difficult to deal with such sweeping concepts as justice and dignity in the allotted two or three minutes, so I looked for an idea that actually asked the question ‘What is dignity’ rather than answering it.”

My Heart Swims In Blood (2011, John Gianvito)

A veteran does not sleep well. Voiceover tells us horrible facts about the current wars while the camera shows everyday scenes and watchful owls. This is his section from the omnibus Far From Afghanistan, which I hope comes out soon. I think Andre (My Dinner With Andre) Gregory played the old man in bed.

Walker (2012, Tsai Ming-liang)

Monk carrying his lunch walks through the busy city in extreme slow-motion. Just wonderful.