Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Inquisition! What a show!

Brokeback Mountain's Ennis Del Mar and Casanova's Giacomo Casanova have just two things in common. Both find themselves outcasts in their respective cinematic worlds because of sexual appetites that society does not approve of. And both are played by Heath Ledger.

Ledger's performance in Casanova is so good it makes his superior performance in Brokeback Mountain seem even greater in retrospect. Here is one actor appearing in two movies simultaneously. in completely different roles in films of totally different styles and tones, and he's a perfect two for two. Where Ennis is reticent, Casanova is gregarious. Where Ennis is awkward, Casanova is suave. Ennis hides his sexuality, Casanova flaunts it like a peacock.

Still, the most remarkable thing about Ledger in Casanova is not how distinct he is from Ennis, but rather the way that the actor, at the moment that he is so completely thrust into the most unlikely of Hollywood spotlights, manages to subsume himself completely in the role. With accent, posture and gesture (rather than makeup or prosthetics), Ledger disappears into Casanova. Though he is becoming a movie star, he remains a deeply skilled actor.

Most of Casanova's charm comes from its buoyant cast: Sienna Miller as a luminous proto-feminist (though perhaps not as luminous as this Bedingfield vixen I'm hearing so much about); Oliver Platt as a jolly lard merchant who looks like he's been dipping into the company till; and particularly Jeremy Irons as a fiendish inquisitor hot on Casanova's tawdry trail. Irons, clad in purple and sporting a hideous wig that gets three or four laughs all by itself, can barely conceal his glee playing a character so irredeemably evil and purple.

I suppose we could read some social commentary in a film in which Irons' emissary from the Catholic church runs around Venice, trying to interfere with the citizens' boning preferences. And if we wanted to read this, I suppose lines like "You are charged as a fornicator. The penalty: is death!!!" could help our argument.

But Casanova, fluffy and sweet as a marshmallow, supported by Ledger at his most charismatic, should be left to stand as a tasty treat without being weighed down by heavy handed criticism. Save that for Brokeback Mountain.


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