Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Written by: Michael Cristofer & Jeffrey Hatcher
Starring: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt
Several words and phrases have penetrated our culture while missing all context of its purpose and why it exists. From the abundance choices, one that always fascinated me was Casanova, who people throw around as a ladies’ man but the details of his life continued to be out of my grasp. While the film Casanova provides a decent look into his life, the silliness of the narrative takes away from the real story of this impactful historical figure.
Growing up in Venice after being left by his mother, Casanova (Heath Ledger) has become a known womanizer and his reputation begins to get him in trouble. As the Church begins to come for him for crimes of sin, Casanova must contend with this threat, as he begins to fall in love with Francesca Bruni, a feminist writer.
Opposites attracting in romantic relationships create intrigue and the one featured in Casanova displays two people with completely different ideologies. The titular character lives his life through pleasure and could care less of the emotional state he leaves women. Francesca on the other hand writes scathing feminist literature under the pseudonym of a man’s name. Both very different perspectives on women but they get brought together by pure happenstance. Everything taking place in this feature film cannot be taken seriously because it does not have a serious bone in its body.
As part of the budding romance, several different name changes become necessary as Casanova engages in some manipulation. He manages to spin this web in his efforts to woo Francesca and stop her from marrying a rich man, which would help with her family’s financial situation. He, of course, does not introduce himself to her with his own name, because of him being the talk of the town and the words of derision she has utilized to describe the titular character. Instead, their relationship grows on the idea of each of them having a clean slate to impress each other, which works but things begin to get rocky as one would expect.
For all of the fun this film likes to have with the story, it rarely takes a moment to seriously look at this character and what drives him. With the abundance of silliness, the comedy does not always necessarily work and it felt like most jokes landed with a thud. Sure, it wants to make a mockery of this puritanical society, but it felt really shallow overall.
While Casanova has many shortcomings as a feature, I cannot deny the bits of fun it has with the legend of this figure. From his aloof character traits and how sex gets portrayed in the film, it provides interesting commentary about sexuality at this time. Similarly today, those who proclaim to be the most religious often skate by with being incredibly sexually repressed. It makes Casanova a villain in the eyes of the bishops and priests in Italy. In their attempts to smear him for his sexual promiscuity, the Church hopes to discourage similar behavior from others, including women. It must be said, for all of his womanizing, the titular character engages in consensual sexual engagements with women. Characters like Victoria (Natalie Dormer), heralded for her virginity cannot wait to have sex and physically quakes at the sheer thought of finally getting married and doing the deed.
Portraying the suave Venetian legend is Heath Ledger, who utilizes his extravagant good looks in a role he perfectly fits. He utilizes his strong voice and natural silliness to indicate he knows the lack of self-seriousness the feature dictates. Everyone else in the movie simply goes along for the ride even with it certainly not being bereft with talent. Other members of the cast include Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, and Oliver Platt. The film belongs to Ledger and he turns up his charm all the way into overdrive.
Casanova presents the story of this legend and shows the reality of it being more than just the one portrayed by Heath Ledger, which plays well into the common saying today. While this feature has some fun with the idea, the richness of this legend does not get past the surface with this particular film. So much more could have been explored when looking at this society and how he played into it. I’m sure with another more focused attempt, they can do the name of Casanova justice, but this iteration missed the mark.