Sunday, 7 October 2012

Kaspar Holten Juan

At last, I've seen the film Juan by Kaspar Holten.  Please see my post from April 2011 for links to clips, and read  the first major review which was in Opera Today in July 2011.  This isn't another staging of Don Giovanni, not by any means. Juan is a wholly original concept, taking its cue from the heart of the opera. As film noir on its own terms as cinema, it's extremely impressive.

Juan begins in an opera house. Grand settings, and a performance on stage so gloriously late baroque that it would cost too much to mount in full today. Juan (Christopher Maltman) is in the audience. Elvira (Elizabeth Furtral) is in a box. Eye contact. Suddenly for both, the crowd disappears. Assignation and clearly consensual groping. The gilt and pomp of the opera house aren't reality. The camera pans on elegant marble staircases: luxurious, but hard and cold. Much is hinted at, but not disclosed. When the Commander pulls a gun in this modern setting, you wonder, what sort of man carries weapons into his daughter's rooms?  The railway station imagery above is evocative. Anna is "between trains" looking for connections she may never make.We're not watching a remake of Don Giovanni, but a study of the lost souls in this plot, desperately searching for things they can't articulate. This isn't sordid for sordid's sake. The mean streets, the empty places, all expressions of this terrain of spiritual anomie.

Juan is a pschological study of the characters. Enough of Mozart's music is there so anyone familiar with the opera will be listening on two levels, following the dramatic logic in the film while carrying the opera like a shadow. The effect is deliberately unsettling. "Real" people don't sing, but these characters do, albeit in English, which further distances us from the real Mozart. Humour, too - one of the guests at Zerlina's party is Placido Domingo, in street clothes! Then, when Elvira, Ottavio and Anna gatecrash, the camera switches to the film crew, gesticulating. Flames burn the curtains. Are these special effects? Or does Maltman look genuinely in danger as he runs along the rafters in the ceiling?

One of the strongest points in this film is the way tension builds up to breaking point. Sirens of police cars and anbulances, piercing any semblance of safety. Sudden, stealthy glances. People are stalking each other, trapped in difficult games. In the final act, Juan and Leporello (Mikhail Petrenko) are assaulted by Nature itself, as rain pours down on them. No shelter: no conventional ending with Don Giovanni safely despatched to hell. No final triumphant ensemble.  Instead, the film ends with a wonderful shot of a terrazzo, paved in an intricate pattern of black and white, like a gigantic maze. Anonymous figures in raincoats huddle under umbrellas, walking randomly, without purpose.

Photo : Elvira (Elizabeth Futral), Juan (Christopher Maltman) and Leporello (Mikhail Petrenko) - credit Steffen Aarfing(courtesy

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