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Touchstone Home Video presents
"Don't believe what people say. I don't conquer. I submit. And I've never sought glory as a lover."
DVD ReviewFor centuries, great lovers have cast their amorous spells across the pages of classic literature, and more recently, steamed up the silver screen. Some are suave, others macho, but none seem to hypnotize and beguile like Giacomo Casanova. Back in his heyday (the mid-1700s), a single arched eyebrow, suggestive twinkle, or offhand caress from this serial womanizer would send the hearts of ladies aflutter and ignite in them a wanton desire. Yet contrary to popular belief, Casanova wasn't all about sex and romance (even though he contracted practically every venereal disease known to man); he also wrote books, attended seminary, worked as a spy, invented the lottery, and hobnobbed with such dignitaries as Louis XV, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Madame Pompadour. Yes indeed, he was quite a fellow.
The real Casanova, however, doesn't seem to interest director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat) and screenwriters Jeffrey Hatcher and Kimberly Simi. They like the legend, and in the simply titled Casanova, the trio gleefully pushes the lover off his lofty pedestal and paints him as merely an average, often bumbling bloke whose only crime is a voracious sexual appetite that embroils him in one fine mess after another. The novel approach lends this period tale a modern edge, and allows Casanova to embrace the era's lavish trimmings without getting bogged down by the weight and constraints of history. Farce is the order of the day here, and the screwball elements that pervade this romp—and make it reminiscent of bawdy Restoration comedies—include such staples as mistaken identity, impersonation, madcap chase scenes, and a clever climactic twist. But take away the froufrou costumes, wigs, and British accents, and Casanova is like any other well-made battle-of-the-sexes movie—pleasant, innocuous, and ultimately forgettable.
The film opens with an elderly, fatigued Casanova recording his past exploits, and deciding to divulge a heretofore secret story—one that is "not mine to tell," he says. As the flashback unfolds, we are taken to mid-eighteenth-century Venice, where the young, strapping Casanova (Heath Ledger) is bedding his latest victim, an aspiring nun who's willing to risk eternal damnation for a few moments of passion. Caught in the act and brought before a seething church tribunal, Casanova is told he will hang—unless, that is, he can find himself a wife and settle down...pronto. The mad matrimonial scramble leads him indirectly to Francesca (Sienna Miller), a spunky feminist who refuses to be bound by society's stringent sexual rules. For once, Casanova is hopelessly smitten, but soon discovers Francesca's family has already arranged for her to wed the oily, insecure, but oh-so-rich Paprizzio (Oliver Platt). Complications and subplots quickly multiply, as Casanova tries to win the one woman who refuses to swoon at his feet, while remaining one step ahead of the church's Grand Inquisitor (Jeremy Irons), who wants his neck.
After a tedious first third from which it never fully recovers, Hallström's film trots amiably along, and possesses the kind of infectious joie de vivre that distinguishes the director's best work. The glorious Venice setting and impeccable period detail make the movie a sumptuous visual feast, and fine performances keep us engaged, but the central romance never achieves the degree of sweep and intensity we expect. The love affair always seems to be front and center, but the myriad shenanigans (amusing though they are) unintentionally diffuse its impact.
Ledger seems to relish playing this dashing Don Juan, and his breezy performance—juxtaposed with his heartbreaking work in Brokeback Mountain—cements our respect for his acting abilities. He and Miller (who also fashions a strong portrayal) spar like a couple of heavyweights, while Irons deliciously laces his lines with a thick coating of venom. Hallström also draws fine work from Platt, Tim McInnerny (who's especially funny as a bemused church official), Charlie Cox, and his own wife, Lena Olin.
Those seeking an accurate biographical portrait of Casanova will be disappointed, but fans of romantic escapism—who don't mind a dash of history thrown into the mix—will undoubtedly embrace this sprightly, if uneven, comedy.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Ah, Venice. With the magnificent Italian city as the film's backdrop, a stunning transfer is a necessity, and Touchstone makes sure every historic square, picturesque canal, and breathtaking vista is crisply and lushly rendered. According to Hallström, plenty of digital wizardry was required to turn back Venice's clock to 1753, but all of it escapes notice in this ultra-smooth, well-defined presentation. Bright, vivid colors, inky blacks, and fine contrast and shadow detail help immerse us in the period atmosphere, and no nicks, scratches, or other annoying imperfections destroy the illusion.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Both DD 5.1 and DTS tracks are included, though Casanova hardly seems like the type of film to require more than one multi-channel option. The DTS track always wins my vote, but the film doesn't possess enough ambient effects or surround opportunities to maximize its potential. Surprisingly, I found the dialogue to be a bit difficult to comprehend; whether that's due to the accents, mumbling, or poor reproduction, I can't quite say, but conversations often seem muffled. The classical music score, however, sounds absolutely glorious, and is distinguished by full-bodied tones and an almost limitless dynamic range.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Annapolis, Shopgirl, Goal! The Dream Begins, An Unfinished Life, Shadows in the Sun, Everything You Want, Grey's Anatomy
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Lasse Hallström
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Layers Switch: 01h:07m:48s
Three featurettes and an extended sequence follow. Creating an Adventure chronicles the making of Casanova, and is filled with lots of behind-the-scenes footage, on-set clowning, and interviews with the creative personnel. Ledger says playing Casanova was "like being on vacation," and working in Venice was "like shooting in a museum for four months." The 13-minute piece also outlines the problems that plagued the production, and gives us an inside look at the digital process that multiplied 100 extras into a thousand, and gave modern Venice its 18th century look. The five-minute Dressing in Style focuses on the film's dazzling array of period styles, while the three-and-a-half-minute Visions of Venice gives us glimpses of "the most romantic city in the world," and allows the cast and crew to rhapsodize over its peerless light and architecture.
A slew of trailers complete the supplements.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsCasanova may not be as seductive as the great lover himself, but it's still an entertaining period comedy. Top-notch production values, fine performances, and a few inspired moments compensate for a lackluster first third, and Touchstone's beautiful transfer showcases Venice in all its breathtaking glory. Despite these attributes, don't bother with a purchase; in the true spirit of Casanova, this one's best served up as a one-night rental.
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