We’re great fans of period films and we own a growing collection of VHS tapes and DVDs in this genre. Some are really outstanding (Affair of the Necklace, Amadeus, Barry Lyndon, Moll Flanders) and some are passable (Mesmer), and then there’s Casanova. It’s a real stinker.
I suppose if you like romps that feature actors in roles they’re probably sorry they took, this film wouldn’t be so bad, but as 18th-century historians Nettl and I like films about a person as colorful and compelling as Casanova to at least have some measure of truth to them. Casanova’s life doesn’t need to be fictionalized, it was the stuff romances and swashbucklers have been built upon for two and a half centuries. Giacomo Casanova was an accomplished man of letters, a lawyer, a brilliant musician, an actor, a diplomat, a soldier, a spy, an adventurer, a philosopher, a writer, and lastly, a lover. History tends to forget all but the last aspect of his reputation.
I didn’t expect the movie to be a true depiction of Casanova’s flamboyant life, but I also didn’t expect it to be a shallow, trite piece of mylar confetti. It’s obvious that all of the budget went to costuming and location. Oliver Platt (one of my favorite actors) was good as an obese lard merchant, but it was nothing spectacular and I certainly didn’t need to see him half-naked on the night of my anniversary when we wanted to get romantic… There is a brief bunny-hump at the beginning of the film, but there was nothing that even hinted at a love scene anywhere else in the film. I don’t particularly like sex scenes, but if you’re going to spotlight Casanova’s reputation as the world’s greatest lover, a little flirting and courting might be nice. Compare it if you will to Shakespeare in Love. Only not as entertaining. And I don’t like it, either. All-in-all, Ledger was very good; it’s too bad the screenplay didn’t take advantage of his talent.
Nevertheless, we had fun watching the film, but that might have simply been the champagne. For my money, I still like Richard Chamberlain’s portrayal best (depite it’s obvious stylized historical flaws), and although I haven’t seen Felinni’s Casanova starring Donald Southerland, I’d really like to. At least Southerland was made up to look like Casanova and not a Hollywood stud muffin in 18th-century clothes.