Introducing Story of My Death at the International Film Festival Rotterdam earlier this year, Catalan director Albert Serra proclaimed his film to be unlike any other — a film without precedent or influence. “I tried to make an original thing,” he later elaborated, “based in my own universe, my own imagination.”
Serra is hardly the first filmmaker to declare his sensibility unique. But this is more than merely aggrandizement: Story of My Death is a singular work, and its originality is apparent in every frame. This is in large part a consequence of Serra’s methods, which are wholly unconventional.
The 144-minute film was culled from nearly 450 hours of footage — not one second of which, owing to Serra’s distaste for multiple takes, was repeated. In order to create a simple conversation, Serra might shoot three hours of improvised dialogue; in editing, he would assemble an exchange using unrelated sentences, resulting in a sequence that seems to emerge spontaneously onscreen.
It’s an audacious technique, but an effective one: This is a film of dazzling vitality and animation. Serra draws from traditions of literature and art history, but reconfigures them into something new. His hero is Casanova (Vicenç Altaió), here found puttering around a castle in 18th-century Switzerland, indulging himself grandly.
The action soon shifts to Romania, where none other than Dracula (Eliseu Huertas) contrives to enjoy certain indulgences of his own. Serra has described this as an “eternal dialectic fight”: the sensual desires of the libertine on one side, the violent desires of the vampire on the other. Story of My Death attempts something like a reconciliation.