Renowned libertine and infamous seducer Giacomo Casanova (Heath Ledger) has 18th century Venice in titillated uproar as he passes through boudoirs in a frenzy of lovemaking. But when he meets the intellectually robust and rebellious Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller) his amorous attentions are truly engaged - in the way of true love. Both hide their real personas behind facades that are dangerous in these days of the Inquisition, and when Francesca's arranged rich trader husband Paprizzio (Oliver Platt) arrives to take his bride, Casanova devises a scheme to ensure it is he, not Paprizzio, who gets the girl. But things don't go exactly to plan and even the Inquisition's Bishop Pucci (Jeremy Irons) is hot on their heels.
Review by Louise Keller:
The combination of love, lust, music and Venice are the compelling ingredients of Casanova, a swashbuckling tale about matters of the heart and the masks we wear. Gorgeous to look at, Lasse Hallström injects contemporary themes in this handsome costumed frolic filled with mistaken identities as well as those that are forsaken. There have been numerous stories written about the legendary lover, born in the City of Gondolas, and this one stands out in that it relies on the comedic elements, rather than those of bawdy sexual connotation.
It would have been easy to find an actor to portray a smooth, womaniser who had become cynical in the ways of the world. In Heath Ledger, however, Hallström has found youthful idealism filled. Ledger delivers on all counts, convincing us of his natural appeal to the opposite sex, as well as his vulnerability to be smitten with a double dose of true love. 'Be the flame, not the moth,' advises Ledger's Casanova, but finds himself fluttering as he becomes bewitched by Sienna Miller's independently minded Francesca. Miller, looking remarkably like a young Katharine Hepburn, is vivacious and appealing as the rebellious 18th century feminist with the strength of character to defy the conventions of the times.
The thinking woman's sex idol Jeremy Irons makes his mark as the aptly purple papal robed Bishop Pucci, while Oliver Platt yields willingly to his blubbering wealthy suitable husband, whose wedding present to his bride to be is a portrait of a much-slimmer version of himself.
Set at a time when heresy and fornication are punishable by death, the mood is that of mischief, as Casanova again and again eludes apprehension by comic circumstance and the loyalty of those who remain devoted to him. The costumes are beautifully elaborate, there are gondolas on the canals, cobbles on the back streets, richly paneled salons decked with works of art and fireworks over Saint Marco Square into which a hot air balloon soars. The fireworks are also not restricted to the sky. There's a twist around every canal as our hero sets out to discover the value of true love and there's no doubt from the start that our hero is set to get his happy ending.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Casanova is a brand name for successful sexual predators, so the name alone is enough to arouse interest, as it were. Shrouded in the mists of mythology, the man has disappeared and we have a symbol for all that's wrong with men (as women see it) and all that's enviable in them (as men see it). The set up for a clash of opposites who fall in love is a great dramatic contrivance, but I regret that one of my favourite directors has dropped the balls in this case.
Wanting to tell an 18th century story with contemporary edge, the writers have unwittingly set traps for the filmmaker, into which he has fallen. There are enough 'youth' and 'contemporary' references to fill a whorehouse, but there isn't enough grounding to make us care very much about any of it. I have no objection to treating a subject with comedic irreverence - indeed, I'm all for it. But as with satire, the subject has to be a solid target. The mistake here is to trivialise all the elements so that it's a 26 minute commercial tv sitcom playing while we pay the pizza delivery boy and crack another tinnie - but teased out into a two hour movie.
Granted, it looks superb, and Venice will never tire my eyes. Also granted, the cast is wonderfully enthusiastic and into the spirit of a hip and smartly modern Inquisition, and there are some substantial issues paraded before our eyes (repression, lust v love, greed v sincerity, genuine faith v bigotry) but like the balloon that lifts our lovers high above Venice, it's all just hot air. It's a frolic, but it's a largely tedious one.
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CAST: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, Lena Olin,
PRODUCER: Betsy Beers, Mark Gordon, Leslie Holleran
DIRECTOR: Lasse Hallström
SCRIPT: Jeffrey Hatcher, Kimberly Simi
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Oliver Stapleton
EDITOR: Andrew Mondshein
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: David Gropman
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 14, 2006