Sunday, February 14, 2010

Movie Log: Casanova

Hollywood can twist any story into its standard shapes, and Casanova is the perfect example of their twisting. Taking the Platonic ideal of the Great Lover -- renowned for sleeping with ten thousand women -- and telling a story in which he settles down with his One Twuu Wuv exemplifies the silly hubris that only a movie executive could muster.

The ranks of recent movies that fit my "short and funny" requirements and that were also new to us and not utterly stupid have been nearly eliminated by the last year's movie-watching, so The Wife and I are starting to venture further afield. She always loves costume dramas -- probably the result of a girlhood watching too much Masterpiece Theatre, but you don't see me complaining -- so we're poking around that side of film-dom for a while. And we did enjoy Casanova, though it is a supremely odd thing to take a historical figure and then run at full speed away from his single defining characteristic.

(I do have a theory to explain it, codified during the end credits: Who is the audience for a costume drama? Women in their middle years looking for glamor, drama, and romance. Do those women want to see a man bedding a large array of wives and daughters? No, they do not. Any chance of getting a decent male audience to see a movie set in 18th century Venice? Are you joking? OK, time to make Giacomo Casanova a one-woman man....)

We encounter Casanova (Heath Ledger, wearing those silly mid-90s sunglasses from the box cover a bit too often) in the act of seducing a young nun, but then he's chased about by the Inquisition (their chief weapons, apparently, being an unwillingness to do anything at all unless forced into it, and a deep incompetence even at that point) and then encounters the brilliant proto-feminist Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller) in the act of showing the usual Group of Sexist Educated Men that she's both smarter than them and looks much better in their clothes.

Both Francesca and Casanova are in the process of getting married to people they don't care about for money reasons; this, and the inevitable continued pursuit by the Inquisition (because the forces of religion and repression are always dependable villains) are the motors of most of the plot. The rest is furnished by Casanova's several aliases -- oddly, for someone who is personally known (and I may mean in the biblical sense) by what seems to be every single adult woman in Venice, he can operate under assumed names without a single problem.

Casanova is witty and energetic and funny, with both a good swordfight and a lovely, romantic (if slightly anachronistic) balloon ride through fireworks. If it were about anyone other than Casanova -- whose real life would furnish enough material for at least a dozen movies as adventurous and exciting as this one (if one could get someone like William Goldman or George Macdonald Fraser to script it) -- it would have been an amazing triumph. As it is, it's faintly insulting, yet another triumph of Hollywood over history.
Listening to: Cruiserweight - Spread Like Fingers
via FoxyTunes


Di Francis said...

But Oliver Platt made me so happy in that movie. He was so fun.

jmnlman said...

The that certainly is an umm interesting cover shot.

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