Viennale 2013 Review: STORY OF MY DEATH Is One Of The Most Realistic Fantasy Films Ever Made

In a feverish childhood dream one might imagine what it would be like if Casanova met Dracula. Albert Serra made this meeting a filmic reality in his Story of My Death that won the Golden Leopard in Locarno and was presented during the Viennale 2013. It is quite a unique fantasy trip that emerges in front of the audience combining death and desire in beautiful and innocent surroundings. The movie is permeated with elegant lighting and pitch-black shadows, in a way that makes erotic desire seem more dangerous than actual violence.

Every shot looks like a painting and nevertheless Serra delivers the most minimalistic approach on a period piece imaginable. That is precisely because it is not a film about the time and place it is set in. It is more of a timeless meditation on human emotions.

After some philosophical candle-light table-scenes, Casanova and Pompeu travel to an innocent but somehow uncanny country home. There Casanova seduces the daughters of a quiet father and spreads his views on the world.  But at the same time a mysterious figure approaches the family. He also heads for the daughters.  It is quite impossible to get everything that happens in the film because from time to time the images and sounds transcendent into pure feelings.

Decay and death occupy the landscape. Bleeding carcasses are transformed into portraits of sheer beauty by Serra. Cows, rabbits, sheep and finally humans: It is not only a film about a philosophical death but also about a bodily decay.

The Spanish director once said that his films are unfuckable for film critics. That means you can not criticize them because you either love or hate them. He is somehow right. He goes for something artificial in the way he uses music, light and staging but at the same time his movie follows the laws of realism with long takes and long passages of silence. Maybe it is one of the most realistic fantasy films ever made.

Casanova has a threatening libidinous laugh of true joy. He laughs while sitting on a toilet, while reading and while sleeping with the girls. In one remarkable scene he is shown screwing one of the daughters behind a window, laughing wildly, when suddenly the windows bursts with a loud bang. In this bodily reaction a dark soul inside of Casanova appears. Somehow Serra manages to portray the dark side of indulgence.

The equivalent sound of Dracula is an ear-piercing scream. Serra does not need any images of horror to make one feel really afraid. The switch from whisper to scream, from lust to death, from darkness to light is fluent in Story of my Death. Both Dracula and Casanova are lonely ghosts waiting for death and giving death. Casanova sometimes bursts out in tears, a deserted soul that escapes into erotic adventures.

It is a poetic tale about the desire to die and the desire to love. For those who come to the cinema for information or plot it is a hard if not unbearable to watch, but you would not read a poem, or watch a painting to get clear answers, wouldn't you?
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