After the recent release of such heavy plot-driven films as Syriana, Munich and Brokeback Mountain, Lasse Hallström’s humorous tale about the legendary lover Casanova offers a breath of fresh air. This beautiful and light-hearted film boasts an excellent cast and is just plain fun.
Heath Ledger plays Giacomo Casanova, a well-known adventurer in Venice during the 1700s whose playful flirtations have made history. His male peers revere him. Females yearn to have him slip into their bedrooms in the middle of the night. People have written books about him, including Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller), a Renaissance writer whose reputation precedes her. Her work is noted for its wit, passion and thorough examination of the male species and love.
As Casanova flits about town beguiling women, he finds he’s attracted to the one woman who writes distasteful things about him in her books. Indeed, Francesca is not at all impressed by Casanova’s accolades. She sees him as a flirtatious and irresponsible tease.
Several wonderful actors portray other amusing characters who fill out the story. Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune) takes on the hefty role of Casanova’s main nemesis, Bishop Pucci, the Pope’s enforcer who is out to derail Casanova.
Oliver Platt, a natural at subtle comedy, is hilarious as Paprizzio, the King of Genoa. He falls into one of Casanova’s hoaxes, which results in a life-altering transformation. While the King has his eye on one beauty, the lovely Andrea (Lena Olin) has her eye on him, and in fact may be the only woman to truly love him.
Francesca’s younger brother Giovanni (Charlie Cox) does not share his sister’s attitude about Casanova. He himself has found a desirable woman whose beauty draws him to the window to stare at her everyday. Victoria (Natalie Dormer), however, has no idea Giovanni is alive, and in a quirk of fate, finds herself engaged to Casanova, her dream man.
The real Casanova was far more than a lover of women. He was an artist, a doctor of law, a soldier, a magician, an agile athlete, a writer known for his sharp wit, and a philosopher. Add in good looks, and it’s understandable why women lusted after him, and why he’s a tall order to fill as a character. Originally the filmmakers of Casanova looked for an older actor who had some life experience to project in his demeanor, but once they discovered Heath Ledger, they changed their opinion.
“Heath walked into the room and he was Casanova,” said producer Betsy Beers. “He was funny, charming, and very seductive, but he was also elegant and quite vulnerable.”
Hallström was intrigued that Ledger also possessed the needed physical prowess that enhanced the sword-fighting, cad-chasing scenes. Ledger offered a glimpse of his ability to play intense drama when he starred in Monster’s Ball (2001), but he’s really come into his own this year in terms of his acting. He shows amazing depths of his talents in Casanova, and at the same time is making award lists and showing Oscar potential for his role as a cowboy in Brokeback Mountain who loves another man but refuses to embrace the relationship or give up his wife and kids.
Ledger was excited to put his own contemporary spin on the famous romantic cad, Casanova. “I loved the script, and I’ve always really admired Hallström as a director,” said Ledger.
Unless moviegoers saw Alfie, Layer Cake or are fans of British TV, they may not recognize the name of Sienna Miller, who created the perfect sexual chemistry with her co-star. Luckily Hallström saw her as the perfect actress to play Francesca, the one woman who can change Casanova’s life. “She’s essentially a modern woman – strong willed, smart and way ahead of her time,” said Hallström. “Sienna had that combination of intelligence, charisma, and charm that actually carries the character and makes Casanova’s love for her so believable.”
Credit for a brilliant screenplay with sensational dialogue goes to Jeffrey Hatcher and Kimberly Simi as well as producer Mark Gordon for seeing the potential of a very clever script and finding the perfect director. Oscar-nominated Lasse Hallström (Cider House Rules, Chocolat), who has shown a knack for exploring the human nature in his film’s characters, also charms his audiences by turning ordinary moments into extraordinary ones.
The movie was filmed in Venice and thanks to production designer David Gropman, costume designer Jenny Beavan, and cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, the look of this film is as much a character as are the actors. These artisans have effectively captured the essence of 18th Century Venice while blending in the magical allure of the story and the daring and often mischievous nature of the characters.
Casanova, both an adventure and a love story, emerges as a delightfully sophisticated comic tale sure to entertain anyone with a sense of humor.
(Released by Buena Vista Pictures and rated “R” for some sexual content.)
Read Diana Saenger’s reviews of classic films at http://classicfilm.about.com.