CasanovaHallstrom Makes Loving Fun

CasanovaLike his inspiring fable, Chocolat, Lasse Hallstrom’s Casanova, starring Heath Ledger as the legendary lover, is frivolous, naughty and thoroughly enchanting. Uncork the bottle, enjoy the bubbly and live a little—this effervescent follow-up to Mr. Hallstrom’s overlooked An Unfinished Life is the perfect movie to start the new year.

The multi-handed script takes a while to push off but, once it’s up and away, it floats on Mr. Hallstrom’s sheer exuberance. No one can evoke the essence of a place like Lasse Hallstrom, who is among the best directors working in motion pictures, and his Venice, Italy, is a feast for the senses. Dazzling, sumptuous and sparkling with colors, it’s like seeing a Venetian postcard come to life.

The picture shows a comedy of errors—like the bawdy 1970s’ Three Musketeers movies or Shakespeare in Love—centered on handsome, randy Jacomo Casanova (Ledger), who exhibits such passion that even the nuns want a crack at him. This doesn’t endear him to the Catholic Church, which targets Casanova in its Inquisition and dispatches Jeremy Irons to find, arrest and punish him for immorality. The set-up lacks focus—probably a problem of having too many writers—as Casanova, aided by Venice’s benevolent ruler, flees the religious persecution and an array of characters come into play.

Casanova—whose promiscuity is preceded by maternal abandonment during childhood—takes flight on rooftops, cavalierly agreeing to stave off the Church by marrying the virgin Victoria, a wily young thing who is desired by Giovanni (Charlie Cox), whose blasphemous sister, Francesca (Sienna Miller), poses as a man in order to publish her radical writings.

Casanova is intentionally complicated, but tucked under the puffy coats, dresses and wigs is a budding romance between feisty Francesca and insatiable Casanova, still betrothed to the lusty virgin. Meanwhile, Francesca’s mother (Lena Olin in another outstanding turn) has pledged her daughter to Paprizzio, a fat merchant (Oliver Platt) who arrives in Venice to meet his bride. The tyranny is real enough to create a sense of conflict.

With dancing, swashbuckling, a masked ball, an exciting chase and a scene suggesting fellatio—which made the ridiculous MPAA blush and slap this enjoyable affair with an R rating—Casanova kicks back with a hundred or so minutes of merriment and making love.

Proving there’s someone for everyone—particularly those willing to loosen a few buttons and bows—while poking fun at repressed sexuality and traditionalism, this is an enlightened Casanova, not a literal history. Lavishing his broad farce with lively music, stunning pictures and a festive atmosphere, Mr. Hallstrom’s playful period picture gives the mythical lover a refreshing, joyful update—and in the process he achieves a rare accomplishment: a truly happy ending.

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DVD Notes

Start the disc with Visions of Venice, a short feature which properly predisposes the uninitiated to Lasse Hallstrom’s mischievous Casanova. There are other bonus bits and a director’s commentary from Mr. Hallstrom on this single disc, which lacks printed material.

The motion picture was shot entirely in Venice, and he shares its wonders—“I had the time of my life,” he explains—from palace interiors to St. Mark’s Square, where Mr. Hallstrom shot the hanging scene in just four days. Most of his comments are like a production log, less story-oriented, with the master explaining what’s been done using digital effects, dialog looping, and a tight production schedule that gave Heath Ledger a headache. And his thoughts, like his movie, reflect his reverence for the Grand Canal city of Venice. Bravissimo.

Originally published by Box Office Mojo

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