Saturday, June 28, 2014

Il cavaliere misterioso / The Mysterious Knight

Casanova (Vittorio Gassman) helps Catherine the Great (Yvonne Sanson) with her riding boots
IT 1948. D: Riccardo Freda. SC: Riccardo Freda, Mario Monicelli, Steno. DP:  Rodolfo Lombardi. ED:  Otello Colangeli. AD: Piero Filippone, Nino Novarese. M: Alessandro Cicognini. C: Vittorio Gassman (Giacomo Casanova), Maria Mercader (Elisabetta), Yvonne Sanson (Caterina II), Gianna Maria Canale (la contessa Lehmann), Elli Parvo (la moglie del doge), Antonio Centa (fratello di Casanova), Giovanni Hinrich (il grande inquisitore), Tino Buazzelli (un congiurato). P: Dino De Laurentiis per Lux Film. 35 mm. 96’. B&w. From:  CSC – Cineteca Nazionale
    1999 restoration by Cineteca Nazionale.
    Viewed with e-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti, Cinema Jolly, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato), 28 June 2014

Jacques Lourcelles (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, English translation for the catalogue and the website): "After Don Cesare di Bazan and the first Aquila nera, which took Italian adventure films back to their tough, picaresque and dynamic roots, unlike the soft embellished style of the fascist period, Freda completed Il cavaliere misterioso, a story with a much more personal tone and one of his masterpieces. His virtuosity led him to include an original portrait of Casanova (his seventh film, Gassman is the most distinct and credible Casanova ever seen) in a wide-ranging adventure story whose sequences are at times inhabited by an obscure and enigmatic progression of a detective story, an unusual and distressing atmosphere of an almost imaginary story (the scenes in Vienna), not to mention that climax of intrigue and frosty marivaudage which Freda uses to show us his vision of the 18th century. He brightly creates his own personal universe: a world of treachery, plotting and cruelty in which honesty is always lacking, illuminated with elegance. As always in his films, the formal aspect (sets, costumes, photography) is treated with extreme care but never as an end in itself. It is always wonderfully connected to a dynamic conception of the cinematographic story. In this sense the final sequences of the sleigh chase are emblematic as they exploit all of the variations of white. They are extremely charming and communicate, along with their visual splendour, the director’s characteristic bitter and detached style." (Jacques Lourcelles, Dictionnaire du cinéma. Les films, Robert Laffont, Paris 1992) (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2024, catalogue and website)

AA: Jacques Lourcelles states above that Vittorio Gassman is the most distinct and credible Casanova ever seen on screen, and his mercurial character is, indeed, the most remarkable feature of this film: story and character are inseparable in this adventure which brings us from Venice to Vienna, Poland and Saint Petersbourg. The leading ladies are delightful: Elli Parvo as the wife of the doge, Gianna Maria Canale as the Countess Lehmann trying to disguise herself as a man (does not fool Casanova for a second), and Yvonne Sanson as Catherine the Great. In this story, Casanova is not pursuing love but putting his charms to maximal use with each woman, usually even playing hard to get. This is about the art of the flirt.

More fundamentally, this is about serious commitments. For Casanova, it is all about saving his brother, who is being tortured in the prisons of Venice. Yet amongst all that flirt, there is one serious affair, that with Elisabetta (Maria Mercader), deeply hurt by what she thinks is going on between Casanova and Countess Lehmann. Having sacrificed her position as the chambermaid of the contessa by helping Casanova (the count suspecting her of having helped a secret lover into the house), there is for Elisabetta still the ultimate sacrifice as they are chased by the Cossacks near the border of Poland. This is a Mozartian interpretation of Casanova: the Rococo art of surface elegance hiding something more profound and tragic. Mission accomplished, Casanova's reply to the intrigued wife of the doge about the fate of Elisabetta is: "The supreme rival was Death".

Riccardo Freda excels in the adventure story; it is a difficult genre to pull off this well. The action scenes are brisk, the final chase sequence is thrilling. Freda has a strong sense of horror and fantasy (the Venetian lead chambers, the abandoned house, the secret society). His touch of the erotic element is light, natural, sensitive, and humoristic. The funniest scenes are the ones where Casanova teases Countess Lehmann in her male disguise, and Casanova's private audience with Catherine the Great.

The print looks like it has been carefully restored from difficult sources. While the visual quality is often good, at times there is a soft and duped look.

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