Albert Serra’s Story of My Death isn’t the longest film you will ever see, but at times it will certainly feel like it. A great deal of intellectual posturing and pontificating could analyse Serra’s doom-laden fable as something to be elevated to a position of artful respect and adoration, a piece of work only truly appreciated by those with the capacity to fully discern and understand what the Catalonian auteur is saying about the mortality of life. In reality, it’s all a bit dull.
Billed as a meeting between an ageing Casanova (Vincenç Altaió) and Dracula (Eliseu Huertas), who actually don’t cross paths until the final scenes, Story of My Death is an atmospheric portrayal of man’s understanding of his own existence in the face of growing old, or so it would have you believe. Ageing lothario Casanova delivers pearls of wisdom to his manservant and a young writer in long, turgid scenes that would question the staying power of the most afflicted insomniac. Monologues of only a few lines are achingly stretched over several minutes (it will feel longer) as Casanova flits between moments of maniacal, unprompted laughter and morbid self-assessment. When Dracula finally does make an entrance (possibly the most low-key entrance the character has ever made as our first glimpse is of him sitting quietly on a riverbank in daylight) some 80 minutes or so in to add a different perspective on the life/death balance, most viewers will have given up, their patience tested beyond reasonable limits.
If it is Serra’s intention to provoke and torment his audience, and his back catalogue including curious biblical drama Birdsong suggests this trait, then he has succeeded. Story of My Death follows no routine genre conventions, actively railing against them at times, as it meanders along a narrative structure that is frustratingly incoherent. Early scenes of dusty parlours and ruffled gentry give way to country life that would appear to be populated by ignorant farmers and desperate maidens unable to resist the charms of either an ageing lothario or the least charismatic vampire ever committed to film.
This is a film that carries itself with weighty pretension, challenging the viewer to decipher its faux-complexity and then laughing mockingly at any failed attempt. There is a confidence in its eccentricity that too quickly becomes arrogant, ignoring any identifiable plot and insisting the viewer fills in the blanks; too often to be done with yawns. The curiosity is that it all feels so deliberate, as if this is exactly the film Serra has set out to make; not for an audience but for the kind of critics and academics for whom this type of filmmaking is to be applauded, it being beyond the comprehension of us normal folk.
Visually beautiful, even interestingly constructed but tediously dull and stupor-inducingly unapproachable. If you choose to watch Story of My Death then don’t say you haven’t been warned.
INFO: STORY OF MY DEATH / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ALBERT SERRA / STARRING: VINCENÇ ALTAIO, LLUIS SERRAT, ELISEU HUERTAS, NOELIA RODENAS / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 29TH