«Viva la libertá!»
It’s with this shout that Giacomo Casanova a.k.a. John Malkovich collapses on stage at the very beginning of the movie. The orchestra stops to play. Anxiety reigns. The comedians and the technical staff provide first aid. A doctor comes out of the public to offer his help. A close-up on the convulsing protagonist is screened in the background. At this very precise moment, it isn’t clear at all if it is Giacomo Casanova the character, or John Malkovich the performer, who is undergoing a stroke. But an opera singer disguised as a nurse arrives and transforms the scene in Commedia dell’arte: the show must go on! We understand that this movie will take entire freedom in mixing and matching the genres to finally claim: everything is Cinema!
The project entitled The Giacomo Variations has been keeping me busy for more than 3 years. In its theatre play version, it already aimed at surpassing the frontiers between genres. The film version, Casanova variations, we present you embodies, for me and my artistic partners, the ultimate culmination of an outstanding experience. This project doesn’t fit into traditional categories: it is a mix and match of cinema, music, theatre, literature, and history, plundering the greatest masterpieces of Opera - namely Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte - as well as the immense treasure that Giacomo Casanova left us with his 5000 pages autobiographical manuscript.
The link between Casanova, Mozart and Da Ponte - who knew each other well - is obvious inasmuch as they all three were living as free men and independent artists. Without stable resources, existential insecurity was their lifelong companion. However, they felt on an equal footing with aristocracy. Indeed, even if they weren’t stemming from nobility, they claimed their right to total freedom. When, towards the middle of the movie, Giacomo rebels against the aristocrats, threatening those who would disrespect him, we get how much this man was precursory, announcing the new era of the Great Revolution.
This claim for freedom is the key-motive of the script. As a filmmaker, it refers to the structural issues of the movie, as an echo of my vindication to freely mix genres and transpose canonised masterpieces in another context, to employ them as materials into a new form. We will capture Theatre for Cinema, nearly in a documentary way, to reinforce the impression that everything occurs instantly, that nothing is staged, that it is real life watching the stage from the wings.
Yet, we’ll be in a play, nearly in a game. Here, we’re living in a concentrated time events that have been spreading over seven decades, pieced together thanks to regained or reinvented souvenirs. The opera singers will mix with the actors, the sets will reshape, the costumes will transform, the voices will enchant and, above all, the music will sound in the most light, profound and intelligible tune that can be. And, without any perceptible transition, we will find ourselves completely elsewhere, in the 18th century, in a lost castle of Bohemia, where we assist to the last encounter between Giacomo and Elisa.
These are the same than the two on stage, but around them, everything is different. Here, nobody is singing, things are simpler, clearer and less magnificent. Everything is concentrated on the great duel between Elisa and Giacomo, two idealists without any illusions. We’re watching them feeling, impressing, rejecting each other to finally not fear one another anymore. In the end, it’s almost too late… but is it ever too late to share a moment of intimacy and understanding?
In the very beginning of the movie, when she appears in his life, Casanova has already been living for 15 years in this lost castle at the far end of the world. She appears in front of him like a strange being, coming from a faraway world; a being who has lost itself in his world, a world forgotten by God, where he leads a life of boredom and loneliness. A beautiful woman, cultured and self-confident, a writer who has earned a reputation and financial independence thanks to her book of revelations on the famous impostor Cagliostro. If she comes and visits Giacomo, maybe it is also to write on him, read his memoirs, and publish them?
Over this encounter floats the threat that Elisa came with the intention to mock him, in the same way she did before with his compatriot Cagliostro, to surpass the success of her first book. All the more since Cagliostro, as a libertine, was, by many ways, Casanova’s alter ego. In this context, the encounter between Elisa and Giacomo looks like a duel. Giacomo, who has nothing left to lose, tackles this fight as the last one of his existence. He struggles for his posterity and the world’s judgment on his life. But he also seeks to seduce this woman and win her heart.
My numerous collaborations with John Malkovich and Martin Haselböck these last years have deepened our work relation and have speeded up the development of our film project. After our cheering adventures with The Infernal Comedy, The Giacomo Variations has been a real challenge. If the stage requirements for the Comedy were quite simple, we’ve needed months to perfect the sequences in detail for The Variations.
Now, we are ready to direct this movie that we have deeply discussed and improved after putting it to the test of an audience on numerous occasions. While constructing the script, we’ve always seek to maintain the principle of a radical overrun of the genre borders, of an intimacy within the scenes, of a musical levity and fluidity, but overall, we tried to seize the opportunity of telling the fascinating story of this European figure. And it is true that there have been a bunch of films on Casanova, and that immense actors such a Sutherland, Mastroianni, Curtis, or even Ledger, have impersonated this legendary Venetian. Yet, none of them have had Malkovich’s perfect natural way to stand in front of the camera and claim: « I am Signore Giacomo Casanova! »