Saturday, March 18, 2006

Is that a salute or are you telling me to shush?

The movie Casanova was one of those rarities I absolutely looked forward to watching ever since I first saw the trailer ("My Lady says the pig must stay outside, but we will take the animal" was brilliant). My sister watched it ahead of us some days before and she had some reviews for a movie she originally thought had a serious tone, she obviously hadn't seen the trailer beforehand or else I'd think her statement constitutes a minor travesty. The costumes were lavish, the lines were witty, and the acting was priceless.

Set in Venice, 1753, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova (Heath Ledger) has become somewhat of a legend among the locals spawning puppet plays and excited whispers among the women. He was actually in the middle of a "meeting" with a novice nun when the inquisitor's men barged in and interrupted them. This led to a wild goose chase over the rooftops of Venice before it ended inside an auditorium packed with male scholars presided over by the plucky, Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller) in disguise. Francesca's speech and subsequent revelation of herself, though controversial and got the attention of the crowd was short lived with the arrest of Casanova. He was rescued by his patron (adopted father?) the elected chief magistrate (Tim McInnerny) and subsequently ordered to get married within a month's time or else face banishment from the city. He picked the virtuous and virginal, Victoria (Natalie Dormer), daughter of a rich local merchant to be his bride and after a short agreement with her father they were immediately engaged. This enraged Victoria's next door neighbor and long-time stalker, Giovanni (Charlie Cox) who happens to be the younger brother of Francesca. He insults what he thought to be Casanova (but is actually his squire) and demands a duel early the following morn, the former relents and it would have been a fair fight if Giovanni didn't back out of the duel and let his sister fight in his stead.

Letting Francesca think that she fought with a skilled swordsman in Casanova's stead she began to confide to him her ideas of empowering women, etc. etc. Intrigued by her fierce countenance, intelligence, and strong will he began an unlikely friendship which he fostered because she posed quite a challenge to his reputation. But what's a good movie without a good villain, right? Enter Pucci (Jeremy Irons) a Bishop of Vatican who came in to rid of the city of Venice of its undesirable characters. He first orders a search for the notorious Giacomo Casanova, he follows every lead hoping it would lead him to his prey but unfortunately it always leads to a dead end. In the meantime, Giacomo jealously stalks Francesca around hoping he could solve the identity of her mysterious lover (which only turns out to be an old guy running errands between her and a book publisher) and every clue he gets from her seditious writings, which she writes under the nom de plume: Bernardo Guadi, he translates into gifts given with the sole intention of getting her to notice that the gift-giver, Casanova is truly someone worth her attention (remember he's still hiding under a guise of someone else). Enter Paprizzio (Oliver Platt), a filthy rich pork lard baron and Francesca's betrothed whom she's never met before but was engaged to by her parents to escape their impending poverty. Giacomo plays on this opportunity by first convincing his hapless visitor that he's the famous subversive feminist writer, Señor Guadi and then undergoing a "spa treatment" that's really a torture in disguise thereby buying himself more time to charming the socks off Francesca. This time he gains her confidence by reintroducing himself as Paprizzio. There were also some inopportune times when he would run into Victoria or her father in the most unexpected of times interrupting his moves now that Francesca was beginnning to fall for his charms. Around the same time Pucci discovers the deception after arresting Paprizzio by mistake, Francesca's mother falls in love with her daughter's would be Fiancé, and Giacomo decides to tell the truth moments after Francesca discovers who he really was and moments before he's arrested by the arch-villain's men. Things still work out at the end employing the old "deus ex machina" tactic with some swashbuckling thrown in true Hollywood style for good measure.

But Hollywood or not the whole fim doesn't disappoint, as in fact it surpasses all previous expectations with the fun the actors must have had on the set. The acting by all the principal actors were superb, as stated earlier, the lavish costumes were painstakingly detailed as were the movie sets. This all reminds me again of the 1984 Academy Award winner, Amadeus. Storywise the latter is heavier than the first as it is weighed down by the drama, but they do share a common thread with the aforementioned factors. Three characters stand out in this movie, the first two being Ledger's Casanova and Iron's Pucci are understandable as they are expected to do so, the third being Platt's Paprizzio. Though he was introduced more than halfway into the story he still managed to entrench himself in the minds of the audience not by being a rich pompous, overbearing monster we were expecting as his character's name was being dropped during the first half, but rather he endeared himself as the very rich but somewhat insecure, shallow and feebleminded man:

Watch this five minute clip from the movie where Casanova first meets Paprizzio.*

Can't say I find anything in this movie that I object to aside from the liberal license afforded the protagonist to manipulate his way around the people around him. Well it does remind me of another born liar, Jacob, son of Isaac. God certainly didn't excuse his actions as subsequent events in his life seemed to attest but we sympathize with him just the same not because of the events surrounding his life (he was his mother's favorite, his father loved him just the same but was more favorably disposed towards his older twin brother, and was sent away to a relative's home for his own protection; as Casanova was orphaned early in the movie with his father's death, his mother loved him very much but had no choice but to leave him with his grandmother for his own protection) but rather because of who he is and his role in the story. I could add some more elements contrasting the two stories and characters but I could be reading too much into the story where none exists. Still, do try to catch the movie in the big screen while you can. If not count this worthy enough to be added to your DVD collection as I will most certainly do with mine.

* This has been added April 11.
** Check out also the review in Hollywood Jesus for more insightful reactions to this great movie.

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