Movie Review: Casanova
Release Date: December 25, 2005
Distributor: Buena Vista Pictures
· Lasse Hallstrom
· Heath Ledger as Casanova
· Sienna Miller
· Lena Olin
· Oliver Platt
· Jeremy Irons
· Omid Djalili
· Official site
· Soundtrack at Amazon
by Max Braden
Published: January 10, 2006
Someone needs to tell Heath Ledger to leave some for the rest of us. In "Brokeback Mountain" he plays secret lover to Jake Gyllenhaal and husband to Michelle Williams (all three received SAG nominations). Ledger and Williams took their romance offscreen and celebrated the birth of their first child in October. Now Ledger is seducing Sienna Miller - and the rest of Venice's 16th century ladies - in his role as the legendary lover "Casanova." Far from the quiet tension of Ang Lee's drama, "Casanova" is clever, nonstop fun. Those who enjoyed "Shakespeare in Love" should grab a date and head to the theater.
The name Casanova has become so synonymous with a type of man over time that some people may confuse the actual man with some sort of legend. Giacomo Casanova did in fact exist, and lived an extraordinary life of adventure throughout Europe during the 18th century, which he chronicled in his autobiography "The History of My Life". His life has been portrayed on screen before, notably by Donald Sutherland in "Fellini's Casanova" (1977), Richard Chamberlain in a tv version (1987), and also early 2005 in a BBC miniseries which included Peter O'Toole as an older Casanova. There is enough material from his life that it can be shown as comic, erotic, swashbuckling, and tragic.
Heath Ledger's "Casanova" gives us a lighter treatment along the lines of Ledger's own "A Knight's Tale." After an opening prologue showing both elderly and child Casanova, the story of twentysomething Casanova takes place in 1753 Venice. Casanova is already a well-known name in the city, his exploits depicted in market square puppets shows to applauding crowds in market squares. The authorities are less than pleased with him, however, and burst in on Casanova in bed with a woman - who happens to be a nun in training. It's a liberal nunnery. Chased and caught, Casanova is warned by the his friend civil ruler of Venice (Tim McInnerny, "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "Notting Hill"): settle down and find a wife before Carnivale, or be expelled under pressure of the Catholic Inquisition.
And so, with the help of his aid Lupo (Omid Djalili, "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow", "Modigliani"), Casanova proposes to the virginal but oh-so-eager Victoria (Natalie Dormer, her debut). She happens to be the love-from-afar of young Giovanni Bruni (Charlie Cox, "The Merchant of Venice"). The widowed Mrs. Bruni, (Lena Olin, "Hollywood Homicide") is at the end of her financial rope and has betrothed her daughter, Francesca (Sienna Miller, "Layer Cake") to a wealthy Genoan merchant whom she's never met.
Through a duel over Victoria's honor, Casanova and Francesca meet, though not completely open as themselves, part of the disguised identity theme that runs through the story. Francesca is hiding a secret identity as a writer of pro-feminist pamphlets, completely at odds with the chauvinist represented by Casanova. Intrigued and at first misled by her alter ego, Casanova pursues Francesca in a number of guises while trying to outmaneuver her betrothed (Oliver Platt, "The Ice Harvest") and the chief Inquisitor (Jeremy Irons, "Kingdom of Heaven"), who is out for the blood of both Casanova and Francesca's heretic nom de plume.
The general themes here are fairly typical romantic genre conflicts, but a few elements put "Casanova" a step above his colleagues. Shot on location in Venice, we get to see some stunningly beautiful architecture and scenery shot by cinematographer Oliver Stapleton. Both Casanova and the Bruni family claim to be on the verge of bankruptcy, but you wouldn't know it by their luxurious residences. Behind the visuals, we're treated to an endless stream of baroque period music by various composers of the time. The Venice tourism officials have reason to smile.
But it's really the combination of script (by Jeffrey Hatcher and Kimberly Simi, story by Simi and Michael Cristofer), direction (Lasse Hallstrom, "Chocolat"), and actors filling their characters well that makes this movie fun for the audience. The writers cleverly weaved plenty of double and triple identities into the story in Shakespearian style without being too dense. Minor characters get to join in on the intrigue and have their own amusing subplots. And even while playing a fat buffoon, you can't help but root for Platt's lard dealer to find his own true love.
Though rated R for some sexual content, I couldn't recall seeing anything more risque than what most kids could find on network tv. "Casanova" may not earn awards, but it's plenty of fun and worth the ticket price.
"Casanova" opened in limited release December 25, 2005 and expanded into wide release on January 6, 2006.
Rated R for sexual content
1 hr 48 min.
Enjoy romance and adventure with Sienna Miller and Heath Ledger in "Casanova"
...And Then What Happens?
-For more medieval romance, see "Tristan & Isolde" in theaters Jan. 13
-Heath Ledger stars in "Brokeback Mountain" currently in limited release, and stars with Geoffrey Rush in the Australian drama "Candy" which premieres at the Berlin film festival in February
-Sienna Miller next stars as Edie Sedgewick, with Guy Pearce in "Factory Girl"
-Jeremy Irons appears in the dragon fantasy "Eragon" December 2006, and in David Lynch's L.A.-based mystery "Inland Empire" later this year
-Oliver Platt appears in the Kevin Bacon drama "Loverboy" in June, and in the John Cusack drama "The Martian Child" later this year
-Lasse Hallstrom has directed Richard Gere in a biopic about forged Howard Hughes biography, "The Hoax" for Miramax, no release date set.
Also opening/expanding this week:
Match Point |
Grandma's Boy |
"Brokeback Mountain" review (Gottfried) |
"A Knight's Tale" review (Kejner)
Heath Ledger articles |
Sienna Miller articles
Max's 2005 Ratings