Naked Opera commits a fatal error by mistaking its presentation of Marc (Marc Rollinger), a Luxembourger aesthete in search of the perfect production of Don Giovanni, for satirical, when it’s actually as thoroughly pedantic as the critique supposedly being proffered. Director Angela Christlieb takes a page from Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story by turning Marc’s hopelessly self-obsessed plight and concerns into a confessional mockumentary mode, where Marc’s divulgences to the camera serve as his own damnation, like when he pontificates how “Hemingway could have never afforded this [hotel] room.” Although he explicitly announces both his modesty and preferences for high art, he’s an avid consumerist and technophile too, constantly checking email and snapping photos on his iPhone. Moreover, Christlieb seeks to use mise-en-scène to achieve these contradictory ends, such as a Renaissance-style portrait of Marc that hangs in his office or Marc’s suggestion that the statue at his table in an haute-cuisine restaurant be changed.
The conceit is furthered by the fact that Marc is actually filming a documentary, with a crew following him around from city to city, though they mostly remain unseen throughout, except for the occasional moment where a guy walks through the scene with a boom microphone. These intentional slips between reality and representation are mostly glib, as are Marc’s sexual interactions with various men, especially since Christlieb has no interest in examining Marc’s homosexuality beyond an insincere plea to class pretentions. These scenes typically consist of a hunky-type stripping down to his underwear, as Marc watches from a short distance before leading the stud into the bedroom. Or, when Marc goes to a leather club, the scene simply takes that space as its backdrop without finding a means to precisely reveal hypocrisy or exploitative tendencies of the character himself.
That’s the bulk of Naked Opera, a film that outwardly wants its depiction of class privilege to be ridiculing and farcical, but lacks the ability to express these critiques in lieu of the means of the class on the chopping block. That includes Marc’s not-so-subtle suggestion that he’s a Don Giovanni-type himself, which is a baiting and facile inclusion that’s merely meant to humor the very class identities Marc thoughtlessly reps throughout. Christlieb attempts to complicate these matters by revealing that Marc has a life-threatening autoimmune disease, yet the inclusion isn’t so much a sincere plea for pathos or empathy as a narrative ploy to hollowly deepen the portrait. Marc is a stand-in for the haute-bourgeois viewer, yet all of the fine dining and detached sexual encounters work more toward self-congratulation than distanced interrogation. Naked Opera has no real interest in Marc, instead using his presence to pose a perfidious, and thoroughly cynical, faux-examination of cultural obsession run amok.