The film Casanova is not a biography of the real man; it is a fictional story that uses him as the main character, much like Shakespeare in Love did with William Shakespeare. In fact, the plot of Casanova the film could have come from something Shakespeare wrote himself, what with the mistaken identities, people masquerading as others, a woman pretending to be a man, naughty humor for the groundlings, and higher concepts for those who appreciate it. It also has a very good performance from Heath Ledger as Casanova.
There are a number of characters running around, sometimes playing one another, and having numerous connections among them, so you will need to pay attention while watching it. The film opens with Casanova as a child (Eugene Simon – Lancel Lannister on Game of Thrones) being sent by his mother to live with his grandmother. She is essentially abandoning him to go indulge herself.
We then fast forward about 20 years and meet Casanova (Ledger) as he has become a legend in his own time in Venice about 1750. Men want to be him and women secretly hope they will encounter him. We soon see he is in a nunnery with a novice (an early role from Lauren Cohan from The Walking Dead). An alarm is sounded and he has a perilous escape from the church’s soldiers trying to catch him. During this escape he encounters Francesca (Sienna Miller) who is trying to demonstrate the science of lighter than air balloons to an assembly of men who are not taking her seriously.
Francesca also writes books and treatises on women’s rights under a man’s name – Bernardo Guardi. Her mother (Lena Olin) wishes she would just be a normal girl and settle down. The mother arranges a marriage for Francesca to a man she has never met – Paprizzio (Oliver Platt).
Casanova was taken with Francesca so he intercepts Paprizzio when he arrives in Venice and invites him to stay at his house. Casanova introduces himself as Bernardo Guardi, though (the pen name of Francesca). He can get away with this because although many people have heard of Casanova, not many know what he actually looks like. He has his man keep Paprizzio occupied and then goes and formally introduces himself to Francesca as Paprizzio, her supposed future husband. Sparks fly.
Got all that so far? Good.
Meanwhile, Casanova has been warned by the Doge (the leader of Venice) that his adventures are stirring up too much attention from the Catholic Church and that it would be in Casanova’s best interest to marry as soon as possible. He needs a woman utterly above reproach in order to repair his reputation. He targets the most famous virgin in all of Venice – Victoria (Natalie Dormer aka Margaery Tyrell on Game of Thrones). This was Dormer’s first screen role (before she became known for more “vixenish” characters) and she is the very image of purity. Casanova gets her father’s permission to court her.
Casanova figures this will be a marriage just for appearance’s sake, so he continues his pursuit of Francesca as a lover. Casanova soon finds out that while Victoria is the most famous virgin in all of Venice, she very much wants him to rid her of that “honor”, and well before they are married. Needless to say, with Casanova trying to turn over a new leaf and do things right (at least as far as the public is concerned), Victoria’s constant pursuit of him is one that any man would find hard to resist, let alone a man such as him.
We’re not done yet. Francesca’s younger brother Giovanni (Charlie Cox aka Daredevil on Netflix) has spied Victoria and has fallen in love with her. He is very inexperienced when it comes to women, so he does not even really know how to approach her. And Giovanni is nowhere near the charmer that Casanova is. Hmmm. Who might be able to give him a few tips to perhaps distract Victoria for a while?
As you might expect, all these interconnections, subterfuges, plots, etc. end up unraveling. A representative of the Catholic Church (Jeremy Irons) arrives in Venice and has Casanova arrested. It may not be for what you think, though.
Ledger is great in the title role. The same year he did this film he also did Brokeback Mountain, and you could not find two more different characters to play. This is not just because of their sexual orientations, but also their personalities. In Brokeback Mountain he is slow, taciturn, and keeps everything inside. In Casanova the film he is outgoing, charming, and adventurous. He received an Oscar nomination for Brokeback, losing to Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote. If the award considered an actor’s entire body of work for the prior year, and not just a single role, perhaps Ledger would have won his first Oscar that night.
Among the rest of the cast, Natalie Dormer made the biggest impression on me. She plays two different kinds of roles in the film, too – one when she is around her father or others that expect her to be the epitome of virginal purity, and quite another when she tries to get alone with Casanova.
For those people expecting to see lots of sex scenes, this movie would probably be a disappointment. In fact, in the commentary director Lasse Hallstrom said that they actually added a naughtier scene to get an R rating because that’s what audiences would expect from a film about the legendary lover of women. I don’t think there is any nudity at all in this movie. The scene that was added was implied sex – we see the reaction of a character while something is happening to him off-camera.
For people looking for a fun time at the movies then this is one you will want to see. Ledger is at his most charming, a couple of the women are a match for him, there are plots within plots, there is adventure, and there is even a little bit of sword fighting (perhaps another nod to Shakespeare). Unless you avoid anything to do with sex at all then I highly recommend this film.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars