May 2, 2006
Starring: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, Lena Olin, Omid Djalili, Ken Stott, Stephen Greif, Helen McCrory, Leigh Lawson, Tim McInnerny, Charlie Cox, Natalie Dormer, ,
Heath Ledger proved his versatility as an actor in 2005 by playing very diverse characters in four different movies. Hot off the heels of his gay cowboy role in the 1960s in Brokeback Mountain, he went on to portray one of the world’s greatest lovers of women in Casanova. With his matinee idol good looks, Ledger is well-cast in this role.
From an early age, Casanova (Ledger) seduced countless women in the 18th century: nuns, royalty and women from all walks are fair game to his irresistible charms. While on the run from his latest scandalous affair, he stumbles across a lecture that is being usurped by a brash feminist. Casanova is finally caught for one of his indiscretions and is threatened with expulsion from Venice unless he can find a wife in a few days.
Through a twist of fate (and mistaken identity), Casanova crosses paths Francesca Bruni (Miller), the feminist he encountered earlier on, when he unknowingly quarrels with her in a masked duel. Once she reveals her true identity he becomes intrigued and even more so after talking to her. He realizes that she is not easily susceptible to his charms. Instead of going for the easy conquest, he sets his sights on Francesca even though she has a fiancé (Platt) and shows no apparent interest in him. Throwing a potential spanner into the works is Bishop Pucci (Irons), an Inquisitor bent on rooting out and punishing heresy with Casanova as his primary target. Somehow these crazy kids have to find a way to thwart the Bishop and live happily ever after.
Ledger has a lot of fun with the role, much in the same way Johnny Depp did in Don Juan DeMarco (1995). He gets to play a legendary seducer of women and showcase a deft touch for light comedy. Sienna Miller also does a good job as Ledger’s romantic foil. Up until now she has had small roles in films like Alfie (2004) and Layer Cake (2004) but it is this role that finally gives this up and coming actress some serious screen time. The comic irony is that Francesca’s suitor is played by the very unromantic acting and awkward looking Oliver Platt. Of course, he doesn’t stand a chance against the dashing and witty Ledger.
Set and shot completely on location in Venice, director Lasse Hallstrom shows off the city’s stunning architecture with his gorgeous use of a widescreen aspect ratio. Rooms are filled with ornate, wooden furniture and exquisite murals covering the walls. In one scene, Casanova takes Francesca on a romantic, hot air balloon ride through the night sky as fireworks decorate the sky that is quite a visually beautiful moment and one of the film’s most arresting set pieces.
Casanova explores the conflict between marrying for love and marrying for what others want. He is torn between marrying for business so that he can stay in Venice and following his heart which lies with Francesca. She is torn between marrying a man that will get her family out of debt but whom she does not love. Despite their pragmatic exteriors they are ultimately romantics at heart. Hallstrom has made another pleasant period romantic comedy a la Chocolat (2000), although not quite as endearing as that film. Casanova is a well-made piece of entertainment.
“Creating an Adventure” takes a look at the making of Casanova. Shooting on location in a city so rich in history certainly informed the actors’ performances. They shot the film entirely in Venice which had not been done in 35 years, even shooting in some places for the first time. It was quite a challenge because everything had to be brought over on boats via narrow canals.
“Dressing in Style” examines the gorgeous costumes made for the movie. Inspiration was taken from classic period paintings. The costume designer worked closely with the lead actors to tailor their outfits to their characters. This department also had the daunting task of dressing over 400 extras for some scenes.
“Extended Sequence – ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’” features additional footage of Casanova and Francesca on the run from the Bishop’s men.
“Visions of Venice” takes a look at this historic city. Much of its classic look has been preserved so exploring it is akin to going back in time. Cast and crew gush about the city and what a pleasure it was to shoot there.
Finally, there is an audio commentary by director Lasse Hallstrom. At times, he points out things that were covered in the featurettes. He mentions what was shot on location and what was done on a soundstage which tends to get tedious after awhile. Hallstrom does offer the occasional historical factoid which is quite interesting and one wishes that there were more of these kinds of comments. This is a fairly bland track that could have been better if he had someone else to play off of.