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Casanova has accepted the Duke of Waldstein's proposition: he has become the librarian at the Chateau of Dux in Bohemia. Reaching the end of his life, he has started writing his Memoirs. It is here that he receives a visit from Elisa von der Recke, who is very interested in his manuscript. Casanova does not immediately recognize this highly charming woman: he had seduced her many years earlier, and she had wanted to die for him. Elisa's arrival is highly stimulating for the ageing Lothario, it is an opportunity for a new challenge (to conquer her), while also being threatening (he wonders what her true motivations are). Has she come to be given his text so as to publish it? Is she driven by curiosity, worried about what it may reveal about their relationship? Does she intend reading this coveted text and draw inspiration from it to write a loaded biography, like she did for Cagliostro in a book that was highly successful? For her host, Elisa's presence provokes a new lease of carefree life as well as the lucid lassitude of a worn-out body fearing death.
A hymn to freedom and to all kinds of pranks, the film uses several means of artistic expression to evoke the symbol of hedonism: film, theater, opera, music, literature. Extracts from Mozart's operas and the The Story of My Life mix with rehearsals for a play, backstage shenanigans, and discussions during the intermission. John Malkovich plays both an actor playing Casanova (a born actor and expert liar) and the director of a troupe of lively actors and singers. This devilish delving into the past brings to life young Teresa, who tries to pass herself off for a boy, Caterina, a virgin who discovers that Casanova's writings have made her pregnant, even though she is languishing in a convent, and Leonilda who accepts to give herself to a man who she has just discovered is her father...