Mozart: Don Giovanni Juan – DVD review

Bengtsson/Futral/Maltman/Petrenko/Concerto Copenhagen/Mortensen
(Axiom Films)

Released on DVD under the opera's original title, this is actually Kasper Holten's film Juan, aimed at the European and US arthouse circuit, though UK showings have been rare. Based on Don Giovanni rather than interpreting it, it's a striking, piece of work. It's not for purists: insisting on cinematic cogency, Holten cuts and reorders the score in ways no one would find acceptable in the theatre. Transforming the opera into an erotic thriller, the film was shot in Budapest, with the performers singing live on set rather than lip-synching to a pre-recorded soundtrack. There are acknowledged debts to the Bourne trilogy and Steven Soderbergh's Traffic. But hooded figures lurking in doorways remind us of Don't Look Now, and there are inevitable, if unintentional, parallels with Shame.

Holten offers variants on Mozart's narrative. Juan/Giovanni (Christopher Maltman) is an artist-pornographer, prowling bars and streets in search of sexual encounters, which are filmed as potential subjects for paintings by his foul-mouthed sidekick Lep/Leporello (Mikhail Petrenko, revelatory). Anna (Maria Bengtsson), the self-obsessed daughter of the local police chief, has a penchant for copulation in her father's office while he's away. Elvira (Elizabeth Futral) is an out-of-towner, in desperate need of affection. Holten's take on the ending is creepy, though not as startling or morally complex as Mozart's original.

Holten trades too knowingly, at times, on the narrative disparities between the opera and his film. But this is much more erotic than many stagings of the piece, and by the end we really do understand the nature of Juan's unsettling sexual hold over the women who stray into his orbit, only to find themselves unable to leave. That's ultimately due to Maltman's charismatic artistry and Holten's filming of it, both of which are sensational.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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