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Ledger's 'Casanova' portrays a different, if less convincing, gay blade
By Mark Moorehead

January 7, 2006

No one could have predicted this yearís most romantic irony: Heath Ledger will be nominated for an Oscar for his role as a heartbroken gay Montana sheepherder in Brokeback Mountain while his portrayal of Casanova, historyís most famous ladies man, has failed to raise the mercury a single degree on the sexual-romance thermostat.

Perhaps itís a sign of the times. Critics prefer Ledger as an impoverished, quiet, brooding cowboy lover over a smiling, rollicking happy-go-lucky Venetian aristocrat. That could be the fodder of interesting social commentary if it were true. Unfortunately, itís not. Casanova is instead a sanitized slapstick version of the real-life exploits of another kind of gay blade, missing some essential ingredients.

First and foremost, a romantic comedy is supposed to make us laugh. Second, a romantic comedy should be at least romantic enough to remind you of a film like When Harry Met Sally or Pretty Woman. Third, a romantic comedy requires a few memorable performances.

Thereís no lack of visual humor (a.k.a. sight gags). They begin early when you see Casanova making love to a nun. However, it would have been funnier if director Lasse Hallstrom had prefaced the scene by playing up the historical fact that the real Casanova joined the seminary to become a priest, not to commit mortal sin. His sexual promiscuity gets him into holy hot water with the Catholic Church and, in particular, with the enforcer for the Inquisition, Bishop Pucci (Jeremy Irons).

Irons makes a great Gestapo-like character determined to silence the disrespectful blasphemer and violator of everything held sacred. Yet, the humor inherent in Casanovaís many disguises and brilliant escapes from his nemesis are not fully exploited. Instead, weíre fed frequent bouts of teenage sexual humor and double entendres regarding the size and performance of certain body parts.

Romance in the film comes in the form of a feminist named Francesca (Sienna Miller). After Casanova escapes punishment for his scandalous affairs at the nunnery, he is told by his mentor The Doge to marry a respectable woman or find himself banished from Venice forever. Casanova finds a hot-blooded young virgin but is quickly distracted by her more challenging intellectual sister Francesca. Francesca likes to dress up as a man and write provocative treatises under a pseudonym on the role of the modern woman.

Unfortunately for Casanova, she has no interest in being another entry in his little black book and is in fact already promised in an arranged marriage to Paprizzo (Oliver Platt), a tub-of-lard magnate as fat as Jabba the Hut. By default, Oliver Platt is the comic relief in this movie.

You eventually expect sparks to fly after the hard-to-get feminist Francesca becomes acquainted with the deeply philosophical and marriage-minded Casanova. However, there is little romance, only a hint of sensuality and absolutely no sex between these two. Miller is tedious and bored as a romantic lead. Ledger just looks dazed and confused. Few ingredients of true love are present. What ever happened to awkward stares, long conversations and the candlelight dinner known to spark an 18th century affair of the heart?

Letís review the checklist for Casanova: too few laughs, little genuine romance and the only memorable performances from actors in supporting roles.

Oh, yes, there is one redeeming feature of this film. Venice never looked more glorious on the big screen. This most romantic city of the world was the backdrop for one of the most interesting historical figures of the 18th century, and we still hardly know him.

The real Casanova was also tried for witchcraft, escaped to Paris where he became a celebrity, won the lottery, was left heartbroken by his first great love Henriette and died at his castle in Dux in what is now the Czech Republic at the age of 73.

Sometimes life really is more interesting than Hollywood.


Mark's Movie Meter

General Audiences: C+

Heath Ledger smiles at last as the iconic womanizer in a light comedy which relies more on colorful costumes and sophomoric sexual humor than actual romance. No language or nudity. Now playing at Harkins Chandler Fashion 20.

Family Audiences:
Not for families. Rated R for some sexual content.


























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