Monday, January 09, 2006

Silly Fun in Venice

A friend treated me to a matinee of "Casanova" this weekend as a birthday gift - it was a gift much appreciated.

I wanted to see it primarily because it was shot in Venice - a city which has haunted and enchanted me ever since I spent a single day there in February 2000. I recall arriving just across the bay from Venice at about 9:30 that morning (after a 4-hour bus trip from Innsbruck), when the fabled city was completely enveloped in fog. As we approached Venice by boat, the magnificient 14th century buildings of the city emerged from that fog, one by one. It was magical entry into a magical city, the dreamlike force of which I can't even begin to describe. (And to complete the experience, upon our evening departure, the fog rolled in again and obscured those same buildings, one at a time, as we sailed back across the bay to our waiting bus.) In between, we took a gondola ride, ate pasta, drank wine, wandered the narrow streets, and gaped at a city that seemed so exotic and, yet at the same time, so familiar.

What makes Venice feel familiar is that you've seen it so many movies (among them Summertime," "Room with a View" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley"). When you stand in the Piazza San Marco or cross the Bridge of Sighs or ride in a gondola, you you can't help but have a moment of deja vu. Now you can add "Casanova" to the list of movies you must see before visiting Venice - it is a big, opulent valentine to the beauties of the city.

I'ts also one of the happiest and silliest romantic comedies of the year. I wouldn't put it on my top ten list, but I enjoyed myself and had a few chuckles. For me, Heath Ledger is not the Yummiest Young Actor on the screen(I save that honor for Orlando Bloom!), but he is sufficiently charming in the title role. Just sufficiently, though. Sienna Miller as the fiesty feminist with whom he falls in love is pretty, but lacks the challenging spark her character should rightly possess.

No, it's the supporting cast that provides the delight in this film: Jeremy Irons is the deliciously evil Grand Inquisitor who gets to spout all the best lines in his best, plummy, upper-class British accent (my favorite is his response to an assistant who observes that the purported Casanova seems confused: "Fornication on a massive scale leads to confusion!") Oliver Platt, with a daft working class accent and some obvious body padding, is a hoot as Miller's intended fiance, a pork fat mogul nicknamed "Il Lardo." And I was especially happy to see British actor Tim McInnerny - who, in my humble opinion, rarely gets the good roles that he deserves- as the Doge, Casanova's protector. (McInnerny played Hugh Grant's best friend in "Notting Hill" and Cruella DeVille's manservant in the live action "101 Dalmations" and its sequel.)

The plot - which I'm too lazy to detail here - struck me as a bit goofy, kind of like in that Charlie Sheen version of "The Three Musketeers" a few years back, where the characters had a tendency to toss out lines that no one alive in the film's actual time period would ever have uttered. While there were no obvious anachronisms in "Casanova," I couldn't shake the feeling that the whole thing had been 'dumbed down' to appeal to audiences full of Heath Ledger fans and Sienna Miller wannabes, youngsters more accustomed to witty repartee at the level of "American Pie" and "Wedding Crashers."

But, oh, that gorgeous Venice scenery! I had to gush about it several times to my friend - "It really looks just like that!" To which he finally and sensibly replied - "Probably because it was photographed there."

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