Scen.: Aleksandr Volkov, Norbert Falk, Ivan Mozžuchin. F.: Nicolaj Toporkov, Fëdor Burgasov, Léonce-Henri Burel. Scgf.: Aleksandr Lošakov, Eduard Gosh, Vladimir Meingart. Int.: Ivan Mozžuchin (Giacomo Casanova), Diana Karenne (Maria Mari), Jenny Jugo (Thérèse), Suzanne Bianchetti (Caterina II), Nina Košic (la contessa Vorontsov), Olga Day (baronessa Stanhope), Paul Guidé (tenente Orloff), Albert Decoeur (duca di Bayreuth), Carlo Tedeschi (Menucci). Prod.: Ciné-Alliance, Société des Cinéromans – Films de France. DCP. D.: 159’. B&W, tinted and stencil
Co-produced by Ciné-Alliance, Société des Cinéromans and Les Films de France, Casanova is a typical example of a ‘French-style super-production’, illustrating the high level of technical and artistic perfection achieved by silent film at the end of the 1920s.
The director, Alexandre Volkov, emigrated to France in 1920 with the Ermol’ev-Kamenka troupe and was an emblematic figure of the legendary Albatros studio, for which he made some important works such as La Maison du Mystère (1922), Kean ou Désordre et génie (1924) and Les Ombres qui passent (1924). When he began working on Casanova, Volkov had just finished helping with the directing of Abel Gance’s Napoléon. Ivan Mozžuchin was the undisputed star of Albatros, as an actor (especially in Kean, L’Herbier’s Feu Mathias Pascal and Epstein’s Le Lion des Mogols) but also as a director (Le Brasier ardent and L’Enfant du Carnaval). He had just played the part of Michel Strogoff directed by Viktor Turžanskij, but Casanova was undoubtedly the role of a lifetime.
Work on the film lasted from August to December of 1926 and took place in the studio (in Billancourt, Boulogne and Épinay) and in natural settings in Venice, Strasbourg and Grenoble. Shot in black and white with tinted sequences, as was the custom of the time, Casanova is of note for the carnival sequence in Venice, which was luxuriously coloured using the pochoir technique. Critics were baffled by the changes in tone and style that characterize the film but are one of its most interesting features. The screenwriters conceived Casanova as a sweeping triptych in which the two episodes in Venice are a frame for the Russian episode. Volkov imbued each episode with a unique tone: the first part is structured like a vaudeville, the second like a satire and the third is an outright tribute to commedia dell’arte. The directing, acting (especially Mozžuchin, present throughout the film) and the editing were the full realization of the filmmaker’s aesthetic intentions.
Jean Mitry, in a “Photo-Ciné” article of August 1927, perfectly grasped Casanova’s aesthetic peculiarity, rebutting any claim of superficiality: “We are before a fresco, and the film should be judged on the basis of this particular quality. It is normal that a fresco, painted across a surface, uses breadth and plastic beauty to make up for the depth it cannot have. And, in this regard, Casanova is one of the most beautiful things achieved in France”.