Movie Review: “Casanova Variations” Is Unequivocally Penetrating To The Matters Of The Heart

“This film is indeed not for the fainthearted. The dialogue is rich in nuance and complex thought while the labyrinthine weaving of the stories will challenge most viewers...”


Two stories about the greatest seducer of all time, Giacomo Casanova.

Many men have carelessly portrayed themselves as a modern-day caricature of the most famous seducer of all time without understanding the full implications of the portrait. However, this film, depicting the life and leisure of Giacomo Casanova, may help to reform our sexual misconceptions of what is truly the “spice of life.” In Biblical terms, to be sexually intimate with someone is phrased as to know or be known. Thought-provoking and heart-rending as much as it is also thrilling and titillating, “Casanova Variations” is a story which ultimately forces us to recognize the climax of loneliness that can hide in the midst of even the most enthusiastic knowing. Because who really understands love simply by sharing the waves of ecstasy if always the agony is hidden away?

Casanova is played by John Malkovich and the story is presented on several stages:

  • Stage 1 is the movie itself, in the most literal present day, centered around the performance of an opera about Casanova. Malkovich is cast in the role of Giacomo and he is even referred to by his actor’s name in this layer of the story. In fact, Malkovich (in all roles) is better with his monologues than his singing and stage 1 calls out his lack of finesse for his weak warblings.
  • Stage 2 is the operatic device that the movie directors employ to present the story of Casanova, as performed by Malkovich.
  • And finally. Stage 3 is a glimpse into the past, behind the scenes so-to-speak, of the public eye of the historical Casanova. Many of the characters in Stage 2 and Stage 3 repeat themselves, so keeping track of the layers can be a little tricky.

This layering of storytelling is interesting to be certain, but also somewhat confusing for following the primary characters and the deeper story. John Malkovich, the actor character, is a little similar to his Casanova role in egotism, but overall, he is the least of the characters. The stage depiction of the historical Casanova is entertaining and predictably provocative, but then again, those characteristics are obviously intentional. The audience becomes yet another of Casanova’s conquests with the operatic performance as Casanova himself, holding them breathless before plunging them yet again into waves of ecstasy and also of despair.

But the third stage set for the story of the private Casanova is the most powerful. Casanova is visited by a woman, by the name of Elisa (Veronica Ferres). Casanova is an older man, writing his memoirs, but still acting out his role as the universal lover with unfailing devotion despite the fact that his body is beginning to fail and sex no longer quiets his deeper needs as easily as it used to. Elisa is a beauty and quite saporous, but for reasons unknown to Casanova, she refuses to swoon at his beckoning, although women both older and younger than she are still dying to know the touch of his hand.

In childish retribution, Casanova wildly fetches about for her malevolence, accusing her of wanting to steal his written material to line her pockets with profit. But she proclaims no such intentions. The stunning twist in the plot is that Elisa turns out to be one of his many, many lovers who he has long forgotten. Suddenly, he is both stunned and yet almost immediately desperate to finally know himself as he longs to be known: has he ever been loved in return?…is he even capable of love? And so he pleads with her to tell him just who she sees him to be.

Though not written here as verbatim, he is pierced through with her heart observations.

  • You love truly and deeply, only to turn and forget
    and love again truly and deeply
    Only to turn again, and forget again
    Always loving just as truly and deeply,
    always forgetting that which you truly loved before.
  • You are a heart comprised of broken hearts,
    A romantic, someone who is in love
    With the intensity of his feelings
    More than the person who sparks them.

And finally, in her words and in his last years, he understands a deeper truth about life and love:

  • Pain is not remembered as an exact moment,
    but only recalled by the shadow of its memory.
    Likewise, happiness is only known by its reflection.

Casanova may have ferociously fed his appetite for happiness with the indulgent conquest of thousands of women in a fated attempt to spare himself what he assumed to be immeasurable pain and disappointment. Yet it turned out that his satisfaction was ultimately proportionate only to the amount of misery he was willing to risk for its discovery. In desperately avoiding the many pitfalls of a broken heart through a deviant nonchalance toward physical intimacy, his heart was broken anyway by an ever-elusive delight for true companionship.

This film is indeed not for the fainthearted. The dialogue is rich in nuance and complex thought while the labyrinthine weaving of the stories will challenge most viewers, but within the lines is a truth repeatedly so poignantly – sung with the excruciating power of opera, spoken with monologues of unsparing precision, and written on the face of a lonely old man, it should not be missed. This tale of Casanova is deeply penetrating not only because of its terrifying honesty but also for the unspoken hope that the desire of intimacy may well be worth the risk of heartbreak. It is an opportunity, if you dare, to bare your own naked soul, without disguising your fear of loneliness, or your yearning for the ecstasy of belonging.

Now playing in select theaters


Jeanne Antoinette

Raised in the gypsy wanderings of two ex-Mennonites who dared to question traditional thought, Jeanne continues her family legacy - usually by asking [too] many questions and constantly exploring outside the box. She has lived in 11 states and has 11 college transcripts, which humorously combine to make her seem overqualified, but also minimally credentialed. She loves libraries, linguistics, singing, and of course, writing. Her passion, at its core, is about communication and connection through storytelling. Jeanne is currently practicing the art of "staying" in San Antonio, along with her two children.
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