Story of My Death (2013, Albert Serra)

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.


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.