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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 10.10.13] Spain drama

When I added Spanish director Albert Serra's Story of My Death to my festival schedule a few weeks ago, I should have known what I was getting myself into. The director isn't exactly famous for being brief or direct and his unscripted stories told through non-actors can be challenging to watch but I simply couldn't resist the appeal of a movie that was shortly described as Casanova meets Dracula.

Art curator Vicenç Altaió stars as an aging Casanova. He's mostly done with the womanizing period of his life and now looking to spend his days traveling, meeting people and writing his memoirs. He takes on a new valet and the pair set off on a trip that will take them from the Swiss alps to the Carpathian mountains where they eventually encounter the infamous Vlad the Impaler, played here by Serra regular Eliseu Huertas.

The opening scene of Story of My Death clearly sets up what we can expect for the movie's long running time: a chatty outdoor dinner scene ends with a man and woman sitting at a table, she warding off his advances for nearly ten minutes. Serra loves these scenes that go nowhere and add nothing substantial to the story and there are a number of them, some far longer than others, peppered throughout the movie but for once, Serra has developed an immensely interesting character that drives the story forward.

Casanova is by far Serra's most interesting creation. An aging womanizer, he often talks about his past conquests but he never brags. He treats his past adventures as learning opportunities and he shares his findings with anyone who will listen. He talks frankly about his lack of good looks but explains to various individuals that the secret to women is listening to and fulfilling their wants and needs. I loved the first half of Story of My Death in which we spend nearly every moment with Casanova, watching him eat, write, wax poetic on his past adventures and future plans. Serra writes the character as a man who is no longer in his prime and well aware of that fact but a man who is also determined to stay in touch with the changing times.

I had hoped that once Casanova and his valet set off across Europe, Story of My Death would get even more interesting but instead the movie loses steam. We stop seeing as much of Casanova and when Dracula is eventually introduced, the story focuses almost exclusively on him. Serra's take on Dracula is interesting, he comes across as an eccentric gypsy, and Huertas provides a very unique take on the character but the movie comes to a near complete stall once Casanova arrives in the Carpathians. For once I wanted to see less of Dracula and more of Casanova, the character I had come to like and respect as much for his frankness as for his joy for life.

It's never easy to recommend Serra's work as it tends to be very slow, uneventful and often with questionable performances. Story of My Death certainly falls into the director's typical style but for once, I found myself really enjoying sections of the movie, notably those that focus on Casanova in part because of Altaió's performance and the characters' joy de vivre but mostly it's Serra's dialogue for this specific character which the writer/director clearly understands. Story of My Death is a step up for the director and though this is likely the most accessible of his films, it is still very much an acquired taste.

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Cosmina. (8 years ago) Reply

Rather than Dracula what Casanova met was the un chien catalan

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