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Brandon Judell



Director: Lasse Hallström
Writing: Jeffrey Hatcher, Kimberly Simi
Cinematography: Oliver Stapleton
Cast: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Oliver Plat, Jeremy Irons, Lena Olin, Ben Moor, Omid Djalili

When it comes to bedding historical figures known for their lovemaking, who wouldn't want to try Casanova at least once or twice? Why from the nubile age of 13, a time when many of us were playing with our bar mitzvah pens or experiencing the joys of coed Twister, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was bedding both a mother and her daughter.

From then on, this Venetian-born lothario conquered many a heart that lay under many a bosom. But please note: Casanova was never just a well-dressed erection in search of his next ejaculatory experience.

This son of two thespians, after being cured of a childhood illness--reportedly by a witch--learned to read within a month. At 17, according to Wikipedia, he obtained his doctorate in Law. Shortly thereafter, in Rome, he became secretary to the Spanish ambassador. Then at 21, he saved the life of a Venetian nobleman, who repaid the young man with great wealth and life-long friendship.

A nice start, but add that Casanova helped found a national lottery in Paris, was convicted of witchcraft, escaped from a prison, made fortunes and lost them, wrote an acclaimed autobiography, plus was on speaking terms with Catherine the Great and Pope Clement XIII, at least briefly, and you have a complex soul.

In fact, with such a docket of tangy life experiences, you would expect Casanova to clearly merit a screen bio at least as interesting as Johnny Cash's.

Well, director Lasse Hallström, whose early films were clearly his best (e.g. "My Life as a Dog"; "What's Eating Gilbert Grape"), has hooked up with two screenwriters, Jeffrey ("Stage Beauty") Hatcher and Kimberly Simi, to concoct a leaden farce that is neither sexy nor funny.

This "Casanova" is sumptuous to look at though, thanks to the lensing by Oliver Stapleton ("The Hi-Lo Country"; "My Beautiful Launderette"), but nowadays beautiful films are a dime a dozen. In Hollywood, technology has certainly been perfected, but in direct proportion to the art of screenwriting seeing its own demise.

The facile farce offered up here has Casanova (Heath Ledger), after bedding a novice, falling in love with Francesca (Sienna Miller), an attractive feminist author and scientist-in-the-making. A problem arises that although she has never met Casanova, Francesca despises him because of his amatory reputation. Another obstacle to bliss is that both the star-crossed lovers are engaged to be married to others.

Donning numerous identities, Casanova does his best to woo Francesca without revealing who he actually is. This gets more and more difficult, especially since the local head of the Inquisition (Jeremy Irons) is out to hang him, plus Francesca's beau (Oliver Platt), a manufacturer of lard, has arrived in town.

Ledge, who is so fine as a closeted shepherd in "Brokeback Mountain," doesn't embarrass himself in the titular role, but neither does he enhance his career. He comes off merely as an attractive leading man who's desperately in need of a dose or two of pheromones.

With a vacuum in the lead, uninspired direction, mediocre sword fights, and about as much sexual content as an episode of "The King of Queens," if you feel you have to check this one out, await its DVD release. Or maybe if we're lucky, someone will unearth a screenplay by Casanova himself.

After all the man who wrote: "I have always loved truth so passionately that I have often resorted to lying as a way of introducing it into the minds which were ignorant of its charms" and "Marriage is the tomb of love," seems the perfect antidote to cinema's current lack of wit.

Copyright © Brandon Judell 2005

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