Naked Opera: Film Review

Prickly subject and unanswered questions make for an engaging but frustrating doc

A chronically ill man self-medicates with highbrow hedonism in Angela Christlieb's doc.

REYKJAVIK — A peculiar and frustrating portrait of a man coping with chronic illness by indulging in carnal and intellectual pleasures, Angela Christlieb's Naked Opera presents itself as a documentary but is unconcerned with answering even the most basic questions viewers will have about its subject. An air of louche intellectualism and some exotic European settings will help it at fests and may seduce some arthouse viewers, but commercial appeal is limited.

Christlieb has studied eccentric obsessives in 2002's Cinemania, but the one she has here operates on a much grander scale: Luxembourg citizen Marc Rollinger travels across Europe seeing as many productions of Mozart's Don Giovanni as possible, staying in the finest hotels and hiring model-buff male escorts as his dates. We watch as he offers airy discussions of literature and painting over flutes of champagne, schooling his sometimes not-so-bright companions in the life of the mind.

One question: How does a man who alludes to an unimpressive-sounding office job manage to afford not only these outings but an assistant who fetches him 9,000-Euro bottles of wine and an artist who drops by the apartment for on-the-spot commissions? Christlieb's avoidance of the question certainly isn't a matter of respecting intimate matters, as her camera happily watches as Rollinger's dates perform faux-aloof strip rituals.

There, too, we know we're only getting part of the story. Not only are some scenes clearly enacted with the camera in mind; the nature of the long-term relationships between Rollinger and some boyfriends is intentionally unclear. One man seems to be saying that he refused to be paid for dates when they first met, though one has a hard time imagining how they became acquainted otherwise; a porn star named Jordan Fox seems to let Rollinger believe they're in a serious relationship, then wanders off mid-date in a made-for-camera dalliance. The scenes sometimes feel less enigmatic than dishonest.

Sequences detailing Rollinger's illness and comparing his adventures to the compulsions of Don Juan offer some thematic meat, but are a tease when raised without the more quotidian details that would give them context. One tidbit we do get, though, explains how to get the most bang for your buck using the loyalty programs at high-end hotel chains.

Production Company: Amour Fou Luxembourg

Director: Angela Christlieb

Screenwriters: Patricia Furst, Philipp Reimer, Angela Christlieb, Bady Minck

Director of photography: Jerzy Palacz

Music: Andre Mergenthaler

Editor: Pia Dumont

No rating, 81 minutes