Donald Sutherland and Chesty Morgan in Fellini's 1976 film Casanova.
Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Universal Allstar/Cinetext/UNIVERSAL/Public Domain
Sunday 16 May 2010 00.08 BST
aving helped shape neorealism as a screenwriter in the 1940s, Federico Fellini took Italian movies into a new form of bitter, romantic realism in the 1950s before transforming world cinema with the extravagant, semi-autobiographical La dolce vita (1960) and 8½ (1963).
He was well into the decadent stage of this third phase of his career when he cast Donald Sutherland as a charismatic, increasingly cadaverous Casanova making a circular journey through the great cities of 18th-century Europe, starting during a Venetian festival and ending on a frozen Grand Canal.
Vainly seeking wealthy patrons for his scholarly pursuits, Casanova is seen as both an intellectual figure of the Enlightenment and a licentious voluptuary of a corrupt society about to be swept away by the French Revolution. He's inexorably drawn by his inclinations and reputation into a succession of chilly, unfulfilling sexual encounters, culminating in making love to a mechanical doll.
The semi-coherent, death-obsessed narrative reeks of self-disgust and has the clammy atmosphere of an undertaker's embalming room. Made entirely on fabulous Cinecittà sets, it's superbly photographed and magnificently staged and Sutherland (who hated the experience) is a compelling presence.