Design II

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Don Giovanni

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 26, 2015

This opera isn’t as ingratiating, doesn’t have the abundantly accessible musical jawdroppers that Figaro and Cosi fan Tutte do. It doesn’t have their subtlety, either, in the areas of who is good and bad or what is right and wrong.  In other words, this isn’t the one that interested Jean Renoir, or inspired his greatest films. It sure interests Joseph Losey, though, as his Gramsci quote at the beginning makes this cautionary moral tale into the political writing on the wall. (Cool titles!) The subject is les droits de seigneur, and all the other aristocratic/capitalistic presumptions that followed upon them. So, if Donnas Anna and Elvira (superb, especially their fright wigs) are most obviously satisfied by the flaming conclusion, then Masetto and Zerlina, or rather their class, is the ultimate beneficiary. We know this because of the amazingly elaborate, duet-long shot that travels through the peasant space while M. and Z. are momentarily reconciling. Detail, heft, sufficiency—the working people are it.

This version of Don Giovanni is pointedly political, but it’s also and still Don Giovanni: the immoral roué gets his. Look at him in the prologue, standing over the flames in those glassworks. It occurred to me that his increasing entanglements are not unlike Ray Liotta’s descent in Goodfellas! Film people are an afflicted bunch, aren’t they? Anyway, they’re terrible, and it is very satisfying to see him cast down below. Not a little chilling too, for all of the operatic stylization, which is to say artificiality. Which is to say, if you’re living a green-screen kind of life, implausibility.

NB: the eyeline exchange between D.G. and the very pretty, very youthful bathing girl. It’s reminiscent of that one live Keith Richards/Norah Jones duet that you can find on the internet. That one is inadvertent, and needs to be read, between lines. This one’s a chilling, definitive instance of the harm that predatory manhood means toward burgeoning and still innocent femininity.

Best thing: sets, and the artful, loving, even caressing way that they are lit and composed and moved through by that camera. This is Mozart, after all, but if you turned the sound off you’d still have one of the world’s most beautiful films.