Young Casanova (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Created for German TV, Young Casanova is a lavish production about a short period in the life of the famous lover, specifically his last three years or so in Venice, followed by his arrival in France. The DVD consists of a single three hour film made from the TV series.
The story is basically true to history, although the script took some liberties with some minor historical characters in order to make the story work more economically. Having recently refreshed my memory with Casanova's memoirs, I'd have to say that this production stayed true to the spirit of these adventures and intrigues, even if it changed a few details. The de Bernis character, Casanova's nemesis, plays a role similar to the Salieri character in Amadeus. Like Salieri, de Bernis was a real historical character. Like the filmed Salieri, the filmed de Bernis has been, as Bill Maher might say, satirized for our protection. In my opinion the changes improved the story without destroying any of its innate credibility.
The brilliant and accomplished young Casanova gets involved in various plots and romances in Venice which eventually lead him to seduce the mistress of his stepfather, the French ambassador, the aforementioned de Bernis. Even though his adoptive son had no knowledge of the relationship between this woman and de Bernis, the ambassador's jealousy is strong enough to expose the couple to the woman's husband, who in turn devises his own scheme to have Casanova thrown in jail. Casanova escapes from the prison after 18 months of solitary confinement, and finds himself starting life over again from scratch as a refugee in France, where he intends to seek revenge against his stepfather, who is now a very powerful man in the court.
Through artful seductions, charm, and just plain brainpower, Casanova finds a way to ingratiate himself with everyone who is anyone in the world of 18th century France - King Louis XV, Madame Pompadour, the king's ministers, the king's favored would-be mistress, and even the cynical de Bernis. Casanova does eventually become involved in a power struggle between Mme. Pompadour and his stepfather, who is by then the king's foreign minister, but our hero manages to convince both sides that he is working in their interest and, in a sense, he is!
While he is in France, Casanova invents the French National Lottery (true story), and becomes rich, only to give it all up eventually, just because he needs to move on to other conquests and other adventures. As it turns out, he chooses a good time to leave France anyway, since the king's spinelessness is about to result in an ill-conceived war in which Mme. Pompadour will turn an insult into a war in which France will be crushed by England and Prussia. This war drains the country's treasury, exacerbating already harsh conditions for the common people, and fomenting revolution.
The non-stop cynicism of the story is softened somewhat by showing that Casanova also had some sincere romances in which he made love to women, or even refused to, because he loved them. Most of the time, of course, his amorous adventures were simply part of his various intrigues, betrayals, schemes, and counter-schemes. Of course, since he was Casanova, sometimes he used women in his schemes even when he did really love them. You know, that Casanova guy turned out to be a real casanova. As Stephen Wright might point out, they really should have seen that coming! (Wright's actual joke was about Lou Gehrig getting Lou Gehrig's disease.) Wright would undoubtedly be disappointed to know that Madame Pompadour had a normal, conservative hair style - even some bangs!
One thing I found disquieting about this production is that the lead actor did a blatant rip-off of the Mozart character in Amadeus. He did the same silly giggle, wore the same perpetually ingratiating smile, and exhibited the same charming blend of naiveté and brilliant guile. The actor even looks a bit like Tom Hulce. Maybe that really doesn't matter. The lead character, Casanova/Mozart, does seem too familiar, but I suppose that kind of guy was a certain identifiable 18th century type, so the parallel does make sense. I think my problem was that a little bit of that character goes a long way. I think I was already getting tired of that schtick by the end of Amadeus.
There are some minor problems caused by the conversion of a TV story to a continuous film. For example, it is obvious where the film is meant to stop for commercial breaks. In addition, the three hour running time could be shorter because there are some scenes and characters which are not really necessary to advance the story. Casanova's relationship with the woman pretending to be a man is completely superfluous and does not interact with the rest of the story in any way, so it could easily be cut and one would never notice its absence. The film would probably flow much better if twenty minutes shorter, and yet I would not have made that cut, since the relationship between Casanova and that woman gave the film its liveliest and most original sex scene.
Bottom line: The low score at IMDb is ludicrous. This is a helluva yarn! It was filmed on location in Venice and Versailles, and the scenery and costumes are terrific. The film is sexy, the characters are interesting, the story has a unpredictable but appropriate ending, and the English dubbing is quite competent.
Other useful links:
The Complete Memoires of Jacques Casanova is available free online.
The Cardinals of the Church includes a biography of the real de Bernis. Why is he mentioned in this context? De Bernis was a complicated man whose biography would make quite a story on its own. While in his thirties, he really was the worldly French ambassador to Venice and an accomplice in Casanova's debaucheries. He was also really Louis XV's minister of foreign affairs while still in his early 40s. After his disgrace and banishment from Versailles, which is his last appearance in the film, he went back and finished his holy orders, was fully ordained while in his mid 40s, and eventually became an archbishop, a respected cardinal, and France's ambassador to the Vatican. He balanced off his hunger for power and his endless conniving by conducting his life in an honorable way, which is only suggested by this film. He became famous, or perhaps infamous in some circles, by celebrating a funeral mass for the beheaded Louis XVI, and by offering his Italian palace as a sanctuary to French nobles and clerics fleeing the revolution.
is an outstanding page dedicated to de Bernis's rival for Louis XVs'
ear, the famous
DVD INFO: This film is not available on a Region 1 DVD. There is a Region 2 DVD available in Germany in PAL format, however. It has an excellent transfer of the film, including a very competent soundtrack dubbed into English. The German DVD info can be found by clicking on the image below.
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