Casanova hires a new servant to witness the last moments of his life. Leaving a gallant and libertine Swiss castle, he decides to spend his remaining days in the poor and dark lands of eastern Europe. There, his society life and rationality begin to collapse under a romantic and violent force, represented by Dracula and his eternal power.
Golden Leopard at Locarno 2013
Where did the idea for this film come from?
By chance, as with everything in my life. I was presenting “Honour of the Knights” in Romania, and a Romanian producer that saw the film and liked it told me: “you should do the same thing with Dracula”. I had never seen any films of the fantasy genre, nor Dracula, and I took it as a joke. However the weeks went by and the idea came back to me without thinking about it.
But as I’m not really interested in the theme of Dracula, I decided that perhaps merged with imagery I was closer to, the film would make more sense to me. I decided to cross the initial idea with Casanova, whose universe I was far more familiar with. And I realised how interesting it could be to make a film about night, and the transition from the lightness and sensuality of the 18th Century to the darkness, violence, and sexuality of the 19th Century, of Romanticism.
Had you read The Story of “My Life” by Casanova?
Quite thoroughly. That’s why the film is called “The Story of My Death” because not only it is about the end of his life, but the end of an era, and furthermore the end of a way of thinking. It’s a crepuscular film, though it bears no relation to the real world; it’s a fantasy.
It seems paradoxical…
It is. I wanted to create a pure fantasy, but as I was fairly familiar with the subject I couldn’t help but add more serious elements taken from literature (now a somewhat forgotten reference point in contemporary arthouse cinema), alongside other purely artistic elements. Instead of concentrating on coherence, I simply went adding layers of meaning. In the end, this became so excessive that there are scenes (such as the one where the servant is eating apples as he talks to one of the maids) where the different layers have become so piled up that even in a banal conversation there are four things going on at once, without any apparent hierarchy (which is what makes it truly fantastic).
The dialogue also has this quality, they are fantastical but at the same time very interesting from an historical and philosophical perspective.
How did you achieve this? Were they written beforehand?
I am very proud of the dialogue because it’s something relatively new in my films, or at least in such great abundance as this one. They are original and fruit of having understood the essence of the character of Casanova, his true depths, only in order to immediately forget it. That is how I went about it and, of his own accord, how the actor playing him went about it too, not caring in the slightest about his form of acting because he had already assimilated the whole essence of the character in his head. From there on the construction of the text is a secret I am not about to reveal here.
The female characters are another novelty. I never thought you could feel the same empathy for them as the male characters…
Well, I knew that the key would lie in the audition, that I would have to like them. I was lucky and the girls I chose (all from my hometown) are very innocent, but somewhat mysterious at the same time, they are ambivalent, they are pure and sophisticated at once, that ties in with the theme of the film very well.
Which, by the way, I still don’t know what it is. I have just seen the film and I don’t know what its theme is…
I didn’t know either, until someone that saw the final montage told me: hypocrisy. You never really know what the characters truly desire, strangely, you never know where their passiveness, where their fatalism ends and where their calculation begins. I wanted to make a film about the night and I ended up making this: a fantasy of our desires that are stylised by the night, but uncovered by the day.
Excerpt from the interview by Alvaro Arroba, So Film, September 2013
Subtitles:English – French