Casanova is full of love scenes, sword fights, period costumes, and wigs on men. Yes, wigs on men. Set in the mid 1700’s, Casanova is the story of a man who is a sexual icon, and yet has not experienced a loving relationship where sex is not the main focus. Faced with the idea of going to prison for adultery, Casanova must find a woman to settle down with and stay out of the public view. Of course, the woman he comes to desire is a feminist who is disgusted by the idea of Casanova, so it’s a good thing Casanova pretends to be someone else to woo her. Hold on to your hats folks, you’ve never see a plot like this one before. Yeah, right.
In the first scene, Casanova, played by Heath Ledger, is dropped off and left by his mom. There’s no real reason for this other than one scene which comes at the end of the film. We then spend the next twenty minutes watching as Casanova jumps from bed to bed becoming a known lover of women while also running from husbands and constables. All women, even nuns, seem to want him. All but one: the only monogamous woman in Venice. Enter Francesca (Sienna Miller) who doesn’t buy his antics and has no interest in someone like him. He receives a warning that if he doesn’t want to be locked up to get hooked up (marry) to someone respectable. Thus the time line and plot is set. Wanting Francesca for his own, but knowing she’s the feminist that she is, he pretends to be her pre-chosen fiancée whom she’s never met. Laughter ensues.
Where the film needs a little fattening up is in its character development. The first scenes just follow Casanova from woman to woman, but we otherwise know nothing about him. We’re left unsure about the type of person he is. Is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy? There’s no action other than romance to clue us in. All we know is what we see and hear. This method leaves a lot to be desired. The same is true for all the other characters—we are given zero history. We only know what they are doing now but nothing about their lives before this point. So now, even if the story is good, and the dialogue is good, the characters will still feel empty and flat because we are never told about them.
The saving grace of the film is that Casanova is meant to be a comedy. If it took itself seriously it would be really horrible. It hits on all those classic setup points that a comedy should be: mistaken identity, love starved virgins, and the great lover that needs to settle down and chose a head strong bride. The fact that humor is used to create and tie together this film makes it tolerable and worth watching from beginning to end. Instead of coming off as pompous or pretentious, the movie works and still allows for all of the period accuracy that we see.
Casanova is one of those films that you watch when there’s nothing else to do but you don’t want to feel like you wasted your time. Full of richly colored costumes, period furnishings, and filmed entirely in Venice there is no doubt Casanova is a visual success. The best advice I have is save this one for a rainy day when everyone is at home and you want to do something to pass the time.
The extras for Casanova aren’t bad, but like the film, there’s something missing. Each feature seems to begin to go into detail about its subject and then, for some reason, backs away. The extra “Dressing in Style” is obviously about the costumes the actors wear for the film. We find out it took upwards of four to five hours to get all of the actors and extras dressed for the film, but they never go into what the outfits are made of or how they were made. How much research went into the project? How much did all the fabric cost? Who designed them? How many fittings did it take to get that dress just right, etc., etc.? There are more extras about costume on the Daredevil and Batman Begins DVDs than there are here for a film that takes place in 1753.
Both the extra “Creating an Adventure” and the extended sequence “Hidden in Plain Sight” feel the same way; as though we’ve been pushed back from the behind the scenes information. The extended scene doesn’t seem to help anything and the Adventure segment doesn’t tell much more than what we already knew from watching the movie. We do see some of the background workings of filming but gain no insight into how they did some of the effects. We just learn that they did them. Oh, and Oliver Platt is wearing extra padding, that’s in there. Feel fulfilled? Me neither.
The “Visions of Venice” feature is actually quite nice and after seeing all that footage of Venice I think I now have a new fantasy vacation site picked out. The final extra on the disc is the audio commentary with director Lasse Hallstrom. What Hallstrom has to say is great. He talks about the shots, the scenes, the special effects, and tons of other revealing items that make you know he is a good and careful director. The problem is that he only talks about sixty percent of the time. There’s so much space between him speaking that I actually forgot I was watching the commentary version a couple of times.
Even though there are extras on the disc, overall the features just aren’t so amazing that we couldn’t live without them. Casanova is a film about love and defining love, but they gave us treats that didn’t feel much like more than flirtation. I wish there were more interviews with cast and crew to give us a solid and substantial amount of extras. Or they could have actually gone into detail about the hows or whys of the film. Between the movie and the special features, although fairly good, I don’t feel as much as one of Casanova’s ladies as I do a cheap date on what could have been a lovely night.