Casanova 54 (DVD)
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Casanova is nice to look at but, like most pretty boys, there isn't much else to hold the attention.
In this saucy story, Casanova (Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain), the legendary lover of 10,000 tales (or should that be 10,000 tails?), falls head over heels for the one woman on the face of the earth who hates his guts, the feministic Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller, Layer Cake).
Already beset by the challenge of winning Francesca's affections, Casanova is also consulted by a couple lovelorn men in search of advice in order to snag their own dream girls.
One, Giovanni Bruni (Charlie Cox, The Merchant of Venice), is young and innocent; he's a do-gooder lacking the skills to impress the ladies. He's also the brother of Casanova's current challenge. The other, a lard magnate named Paprizzio (Oliver Platt, Working Girl), is a well-meaning man with the physique of a... well... of a lard ass.
As directed by Lasse Hallström (Chocolat), Casanova is supposed to be some sort of sexcapade / battle of the sexes. Unfortunately, it thinks it's much smarter than it really is. Loaded with empty calories, Casanova's conclusion can be predicted from the outset and it's just as quickly forgotten.
Carried along by a score consisting of classical music from the period (the film features some of the greatest hits by the likes of Vivaldi, Handel, and Corelli), the movie feels like it's straining for the legitimacy of an Amadeus; it's a stretch that leaves the movie with nothing more than a pulled muscle.
Making the movie easy on the eyes is its magnificent setting; it's hard to argue with Venice, one of the world's most stunning cities.
And the cast is equally attractive. While Ledger certainly looks the part, he avoids any attempt at bringing depth to the leading character as if it were the plague. Naturally, Sienna Miller as his tomboyish love interest is equally fetching.
At the other end of the beauty scale, Oliver Platt (Working Girl) practically steals the show as the good-hearted but terminally pathetic Paprizzio. He's hilarious beneath loads of makeup and creative costuming that technically falls short of being categorized as a fat suit.
It's very funny – and almost touching – when Paprizzio stands, in his attempt at a majestic pose, next to a portrait painted of him that is something equivalent to the old, fat Elvis standing next to a painting of the lithe, hip-swiveling Elvis. There's a big difference between the two and, unfortunately for Paprizzio, he never had a lithe, hip-swiveling younger self.
The story of the real-life Giacomo Girolamo Casanova does indeed have all the makings of a great movie, after all he was a man of the church who traveled all over Europe and went from one torrid affair to the next. It's just a shame this Casanova ignores so much of the richness of the real man's life (or alleged life) and instead turns it into a one-note comedy.
The primary DVD's supplement is the running commentary by director Hallström. The track is extremely tedious. Hallström doesn't go into the commentary with any particular approach for providing a fluid discussion about the making of the movie or its genesis. Instead, he basically goes shot by shot, pointing out this or that. Green screens, locations, music, wigs, costumes, how beautiful his wife (Lena Olin) is; Hallström even comments on his concerns about the film's pacing. Unfortunately, his concern about proper pacing didn't extend to the commentary itself.
Also on tap are a few featurettes. Creating an Adventure offers some interesting bits on the film's logistics and technical aspects, but there's also a lot of the usual fluff. Dressing in Style would probably interest Isaac Mizrahi and anybody else totally into clothes, but for everyone else, take it or leave it. Visions of Venice is disappointingly shallow; a better look at Venice and the city's historical significance would have better served the movie and this DVD.
There's also an extended sequence, entitled Hidden in Plain Sight. It doesn't add much to the Casanova mythos. Watch it once and move on.
Picture and Sound
Casanova is beautifully presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The picture pops with eye-catching color, bringing the grandeur of Venice to the home screen. The DVD includes both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 surround soundtracks, which are excellent showcases for the film's harpsichord-heavy score. A music-only track would've been a nice option, but none such is included.
The disc also includes French and Spanish language tracks as well as French and Spanish subtitles and English captions for the hearing impaired.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.