Carlos Saura’s I, Don Giovanni is not a film of the opera, but a fictional interpretation of the collaboration between the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte (Lorenzo Balducci) and the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Lino Guanciale). Lovers of the operatic masterpiece will gain more satisfaction than those who are not familiar with the work, as they will be able to follow the opera from the information in this back story.

The film opens in Venice in 1763 and this alone is enough to transport you into celluloid heaven. We float along the canals on a gondolier with the writer Lorenzo da Ponte who is being sent off to exile to Vienna. Why? Because he is a philandering priest and, like all well-connected people, he is given a letter of recommendation to present upon his arrival. Not to just anyone, but to the King’s favourite composer, Salieri (Ennio Fantastichini) and through him he meets an eccentric passionate newcomer to the scene called Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri uses the introduction as a way of undermining Mozart’s ascension by hiring the unknown da Ponte as his librettist.

Before he left Venice, da Ponte had been asked by a benefactor to look after his beautiful daughter, Annetta (Emilia Verginelli). He could not accept the responsibility as he was completely besotted by her. The benefactor eventually dies and Annetta turns up in Vienna. This is where the story goes in to overdrive as da Ponte tries to mend his ways. His friend Casanova (Tobias Moretti), gives a list of his ex lovers to Annetta and he tries to woo her back.

Salieri’s attempt to thwart Mozart’s success fails. Da Ponte’s work inspires Mozart to the point where he is able to compose ‘Don Giovanni’, considered to be one of his most powerful and indeed bold compositions. Their creative collaboration also extends to ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’.

The action is shot with meticulous detail by Vittorio Storaro, who won Academy Awards for his work on Apocalypse Now, Reds and The Last Emperor. The costumes are beautifully created by the Viennese designer Brigit Hutter. However, the sumptuous aura of the film is only slightly marred by the obvious fake exterior sets of Venice and Vienna. You get the feeling that you are not quite there, that this is an exercise of art imitating life. However, this is a rollicking tale which is beautifully executed and should appeal to a wider audience.

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