A review of Casanova

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The Venice architecture and lively crowd scenes make an enchanting world for these characters. The film Casanova, with a screenplay by Kimberly Simi and Jeffrey Hatcher, cinematography by Oliver Stapleton, production design by David Gropman, and music by Alexandre Desplat, is an entertainment, and that is something that can be acknowledged with pride.Reviewed by Daniel Garrett

Casanova
Director: Lasse Hallström
Rated: PG
Actors: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, Lena Olin, See more
Format: Ntsc
Run Time: 108 min (original theatrical or airing runtime)

Casanova is an ensemble work of charm, color, energy, laughter, and luminosity; it is an amusing and diverting work—it diverts us from the heavy hand of idiocy and mediocrity of many films. Its scenes of mid-18th century Venice life are full of finery and fun and brisk movement, and its themes of diverse dualities, of committed love and promiscuous pleasure, personal freedom and religious authority, individual destiny and family duty, female intelligence and social subjugation, are intelligent and articulate without undue gravity. Casanova, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, stars Heath Ledger as Giacomo Casanova and Sienna Miller as Francesca Bruni, a smart young woman with independent ideas, whom Casanova becomes involved with after she (disguised as a male) defends her young brother in a duel involving each man’s claims on another woman. The famed seducer Casanova is infatuated and his plans to grow closer to Francesca contrast with her mother’s intention that she marry a Genoa businessman, a large-bodied seller of lard (the mother is played by Lena Olin, an actress we do not see enough of, and the businessman by Oliver Platt). Oliver Platt as the lard king is more than the butt of jokes for his weight—though he is that—and he brings a kind of simple dignified sincerity and confidence to some of his scenes that complicates the character. A similar unexpected and welcome sincerity is observable in other performances, particularly those of Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, and Charlie Cox as Francesca’s brother Giovanni, and the performances balance—without burdening—the lightness of the film. (The film also features Omid Djalili as Casanova’s attendant and friend Lupo, and Jeremy Irons as a formidable religious inquisitor.) The Venice architecture and lively crowd scenes make an enchanting world for these characters. The film Casanova, with a screenplay by Kimberly Simi and Jeffrey Hatcher, cinematography by Oliver Stapleton, production design by David Gropman, and music by Alexandre Desplat, is an entertainment, and that is something that can be acknowledged with pride.

The film Casanova is also better than the empty spectacle and wasted expense of Peter Jackson’s King Kong and the likable but equally mechanical movie In the Mix, which features the singer Usher as a disc jockey whose longtime friendship with a Mafia princess leads to a bodyguard job and then a romance: two very different films that suggest the range of product the film industry is now selling to us. Munich, a film about the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes during the Olympic games and the Israeli government’s violent revenge, mixes Spielberg’s late-evolving serious ambitions with his propensity for blunt emphasis and sentimentality, though here the sobering facts and the strong performance from Eric Bana, who was one of the best things in the movie Troy, make Munich a film worth time and thought. Bana plays an intelligence agent who becomes a full-time assassin. Bana’s face when we first see him is handsome and strong and professional and by the end of the film it is filled with so many things—anger, sadness, doubt, disgust, fear—that he seems to be drowning. Memoirs of a Geisha, a good looking entertaining melodramatic contrivance directed by Rob Marshall, controversial for casting Chinese and Malaysian actresses (Ziyi Zhang, Li Gong, Michelle Yeoh) in Japanese parts, at least does not pretend to be more than it is: indulgence in romantic melodrama and orientalist fantasy. The performances by Ken Watanabe, Koji Yakusho, Li Gong and the others justify themselves: these are among the most charismatic and effective actors working today. The worst film I’ve seen in months is probably Stryker, a Canadian production directed by Noam Gonick with good cinematography by Ed Lachman, but faulty sound recording of bad dialog, and mostly stagy and amateur acting performances, as it presents a conflict between native American and Filipino gangs very much influenced by hip-hop style and values. Kyle Henry as the silent, pyromaniac Native American youth is an intriguing mystery in the film, possibly more so for not having to speak the (dumb, violent) words the director put into the other characters’ mouths. The film offers a view of complicated betrayal: Native Americans and Filipinos have betrayed themselves by becoming involved in violence and using hip-hop to augment their identities, then the director has betrayed them by putting that on film without suggesting the richness or complexity of the cultures they were born into nor the positive contemporary alternatives that might exist for them. The film leaves one longing for enlightenment, pleasure, and relief.

The Matador, like Casanova, delivers old-fashion movie fun. Richard Shepard’s The Matador, starring Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, and Hope Davis, is about an international assassin who becomes involved with an ordinary mid-western couple. In The Matador, the friendship between the two men has an emotional dimension, and Brosnan gives a really felt performance of a man who has suddenly become disturbed by his profession, making this a funny film with absurd and tragic elements. My only reservation concerned a decision Kinnear’s character makes late in the film, a decision involving friendship and a moral compromise. However, The Matador and Casanova return one to the sheer pleasure of film viewing. The Matador involves friendship and love, and secrets and travel and danger. Casanova involves mistaken identities and comic chase scenes and romance—and some intelligence, something other filmmakers should remember to include more of in their productions.

Daniel Garrett is a writer who lives in New York. His work has appeared in diverse publications, including The African, American Book Review, Changing Men, The Humanist, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Illuminations, Muse-Apprentice-Guild.com, Offscreen.com, Option, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 24FramesPerSecond.com, UnlikelyStories.org, WaxPoetics.com, and World Literature Today.

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