Director: Albert Serra
Starring: Eliseu Huertas, Lluís Serrat Massanellas, Vicenç Altaió . UK. 2h 28m
Albert Serra, the Catalan trailblazer, always fascinates with his interpretations and adaptations of withering classic figures. Through a dusty lense he creates lavish cultured tapestries for them to play in, sometimes seeming alive now and again they seem as fragile and shaggy relics they have left behind.
His baroque mix up of pleasure meets desire in the guise of Cassanova meets Dracula combines fantasy and fiction in a flight of fancy style, at times it’s pretty grotesque while bolsters by lots of risque blush and tickles, a truly great adventure set against an unusual Transylvanian setting.
The magic really works between the combination of Serra’s vision, especially worked through a rear camera techniques, something similar to early David Lynch and Michael Mann, on top of this, his ability to work textures and navigate around the narrative Alongside him at every moment is the major actor Vicenç Altaió’s ability to go above and beyond for his craft as he really settles into this role as the carefree rogue. But it’s not Casanova to write home about that’s in question here instead it’s Casanova who’s past his prime but still able to charm and entice but isn’t the hot new thing anymore, so he heads out with his aide for a romp in Transylvania where his radical encounter with Dracula takes place.
I wanted to make a film about the night, and what happens in the night, when real desires appear.
In all fairness the complexity of Serras film isn’t in the overarching plot, it is simply Cassanova heading to a new spot and meeting the Prince of Darkness who’s a fairly calm and rational person but after a night of strange going ons the film ends but is it really that simple, hell do, the lavish complexity is more to immersed in the ambitious settings, the detailed look behind the foundation and under the wig of the characters and the tender awkwardness of the lives they live.
The approach to humor is usually questionable, sometimes seen a grotesque, as it touches on the time and era but incredibly avant garde, the post punk, pop art approach is usually shunned by directors as it brings more criticism than acclaim but Serra’s main objective it so fulfill his own criteria and to make his movie. Often approaching each scene from many angles it usually creates this disjointed scene, the actors are often looking away and seem to have conversations with invisible characters, the result is the audience feels as if it’s stumbled upon a secret conversation and is forced to watch from a secret enclave.
“…sometimes, yes! The magic is invisible. If it exists, the camera will record it. I don’t know if the camera will be so subtle [as] to have the capacity to discover this magic. I will discover it afterwards, studying the images.”
Vicenç Altaió’s possibly has the most rewarding and toughest job, in one scene he takes a 13 minute shit in a chamber pot, and later on in the movie after his awkward journey set in a wagon without much comfort he gets to seducing some farm girls, and smashes his head through a window while banging one in his cottage, Cassanova has never been seen in this light. The bringer of death is an easily dismiss able man, Count Dracula (Eliseu Huertas) appears at dusk and spends lots of time quietly talking while taking in the gorgeous sunset along a flower covered river bank. He has Gary Oldman styled hair but in auburn black. There is no lofty castle, no drama once he arrives, he’s more of a haunting, a myth of a creature than the typical in your face monster.
“And maybe people would start to change: their own lives, their way of perceiving things. “
With the characters appearing so different to perceived standards, it’s Serra’s attempt to challenge his audience’s own personal perceptions and possibly to change their lives. Through the mundane actions and quirky responses and obscure view of the world, a world we are alien to but which the cast seem to actually come from. The atmosphere feels confusing at times, it’s very picturesque, softly lit, often shadowed but forever glorious, and yet very mundane, but it all comes together as Serra’s unique style in this metaphorical walk into death by a man who has exhausted all avenues of pain and pleasure that he could feel in one lifetime.
R: The Death of Louis XIV (2016), Honour of the Knights (2003),
L: 50 Dracula films still worth talking about
5s: Albert Serra