The love god returns
AUSTRALIAN HEATH Ledger plays history’s most famous lothario Casanova – the driven, besotted, seemingly helpless yet graceful Italian lover, who has made the pursuit of women his life’s work. However, two forces lie in wait to spoil the fun of his lusty existence – the Inquisition that wants to hang him for debauchery and a woman who makes his heart beat in a new and challenging way.
The film opens with an old man writing his memoirs, with a voiceover telling you that this is one story that hasn’t been told – Casanova and Francesca. Cut to Venice 1753, where the 28-year-old Casanova, already a byword for womanising, is seen fleeing a nun’s bedroom and running across rooftops, as the Inquisition, led by Dalfonso (Stott), tries to arrest him. He is saved from the hangman’s noose by the intervention of his protector, the Doge (McInnerny). The Doge advises him that, in order to escape the consequences of his unacceptable behaviour and reputation, he must either leave Venice forever or find a bride.
After a quick perusal of the available women, with his valet Lupo, played by British-Iranian comedian Omid Djalili, Casanova picks the city’s prettiest virgin, Victoria (Dormer). However, unbeknown to Victoria, she is also the love interest of shy Giovani Bruni (Cox), who lives across the alleyway from her with his widowed mother Andrea (Olin) and feminist elder sister Francesca (Miller). When Casanova and Victoria meet, she is so taken with him that she manages to snap thick pieces of wood with her fingers and the two become engaged.
When Giovanni discovers what’s going on, he challenges Casanova to a duel at dawn, not realising he is the notorious seducer. Knowing her brother is not good with a sword, Francesca takes his place and fights Casanova to a draw. Only when the duel ends is she revealed and Casanova is immediately smitten, realising he’s made a mistake in his choice of bride.
When he discovers that Francesca favours the writing of a philosopher, whose books expose a woman’s point of view, he employs that philosophy to pursue her, little knowing that she is, in fact, the writer of those books, using a nom-de-plume.
Sienna Miller plays Francesca, a feisty, radical thinker and an early crusader for women’s rights, hating everything Casanova stands for. She doesn’t seem interested in him as she is already in a childhood betrothal to the very rich and very overweight Papprizzio (Platt) – due to arrive the next day.
When Papprizzio, with his rotund appearance and ruddy complexion, arrives, he is befriended at the docks by Casanova and Lupo and, in a complex series of deceptions, is persuaded to let Casanova take his place at a welcoming tea party. Meanwhile, the Inquisition installs a new official, hard-liner Bishop Pucci (Irons), who makes it his personal mission to nail Casanova.
Set in Venice, which has never looked so scintillating on screen, the film finds the perfect background for this tale of love, lust and mistaken identity. Casanova is easy to watch and enjoy. Ledger’s English accent blends well with the largely British cast, Miller proves that she’s more than just Jude Law’s celebrity partner and director Lasse Hallstrom establishes a light tone that recalls Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers in its mix of modernism and period flavour.
Movies with the name ‘Casanova’ in the title have almost always been stinkers, so it’s bold of Hallstrom to simply call his Casanova. However, this smart and sophisticated comedy turns out to be a welcome exception to the rule.
RATING * * * *