(Albert Serra, Spain, 2014)
My first Serra, and it was a pleasure and an inspiration. I like his sly, playful, yet grounded and poetic use of ideas and the permutations of those ideas, principally: the transition from the bright, rational Enlightenment into the crepuscular Romantic sensibility, the immemorial binaries (dialectics, if you're of that persuasion) of freedom and power, sex and violence, knowledge and innocence. A major theme - perhaps THE major organizing theme, if the film actually has one at all - is that of transformation: scientific, aesthetic, mystical, metaphysical. Grapes become wine. Food becomes shit. Shit becomes gold. Life turns to literature, and to death, which is then renewed as new life, perhaps a supernatural one at that. Even vanquished, Casanova lives!
Less commented upon, among the notices I've read, is how beautiful Serra manages to make his digitally captured images; he adroitly adheres to the wisdom of digital-as-digital, rather than the awful fallacy of digital-as-film, and in doing so joins (for me) the ranks of filmmakers doing exciting things with this (relatively) new and quirky medium - David Lynch, Jia Zhangke, Alain Resnais, JLG, etc. In Story, Serra truly paints with the flat, slightly murky images, and produces something that reaches heights that are transcendently beautiful, diaphanous, oneiric. His film is far more poetic, intuitive, and sensual than the occasional flirtations with formalism have led some critics to believe and allege. And the soundtrack is another tour-de-force, with the basso profundo horns and drums that accompany the views of Dracula's castle prompting the most authentic shivers of fright and delight I've had in a theater since as long as I can recall.
All in all, a masterwork, with new dimensions to be divined, and new possibilities portended for the medium.