Casanova: Lover's Knots

Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, Lena Olin, Omid Djalili
(R, 108 min.)

"Love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired." Robert Frost

Light as a soufflé, peppered with dry wit and broad farce, and taking itself not the least bit seriously, Casanova is just the ticket to cure the doldrums. And along the way, you just may learn something about the art of love as well as the real thing.

“Be the flame, not the moth,” Casanova (Heath Ledger) instructs lovesick Giovanni, who despairs over his chances with his lovely neighbor, Victoria. Casanova’s own flame has been burning very brightly indeed, perhaps at both ends. It is the eve of Carnival in Venice and Casanova is like an overbooked CPA at tax season. A lovely lady laments that she had her door open for him the night before with no results. Is there just the hint of exhaustion in his reply? “So many doors, so little time.” 

So when he sets eyes upon Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller) a beautiful but affirmed feminist, no wonder he is drawn in. He is probably long overdue for a little rest. Francesca is debating at the university, arguing that they should admit women into their sacred halls and ends her lecture with a flourish as she demonstrates the scientific principal of warm air rising by launching a miniature hot air balloon. 

Unfortunately, this whimsical little science lesson is cut short as the local authorities arrive to cart off Casanova for some earlier athletics with a young novitiate from the nearby convent. When charged with violating a “novice,” Casanova cannot help but mutter with low-key Hugh Grant perplexed amusement, “She was hardly a novice.” In fact, a fleet of the sweet young things studying to take their vows give Casanova such heartfelt and tender goodbyes as he makes his escape from their midst, it gives new meaning to Hamlet’s admonition to Ophelia: “Get thee to a nunnery.”

This aside, you can always judge a man’s character by how he treats his valet. (If someone didn’t already say that, they should have.) The relationship between Casanova and his is cemented in mutual trust, equanimity, and a familiarity that never borders on contempt. Sworn to good behavior, Casanova has resisted all efforts to insult him into a duel, but his loyal valet cannot withstand the final slap of a glove and responds. Casanova intends to let the less-than-skilled swordsman pay for this lapse himself, content to give him a training session as he nibbles on an apple and lounges in the courtyard.

But on the way to the duel, he has second thoughts and decides to cover for his manservant, just as a worried older sister has opted to take the place of her earnest but equally unqualified young brother. Behind their masks the two last minute substitutes thrust and parry, with the disguised sister actually getting the better of Casanova. When it turns out to be the lovely Francesca, whose ready wit and piquant conversation on the way back to Venice is on a par with her fencing, Casanova is enthralled. 

Mistaken identities, engineered deceit, secret identities, the stylized masks of Carnival, as well as an assortment of powdered wigs – Jeremy Irons’ red one gives his priggish Bishop Pucci a certain punk rock flair – add to the fun but also suggest a deeper issue. Like many of Shakespeare’s comedies –this one in particular calls to mind The Merchant of Venice as well as Taming of the Shrew -- embedded beneath the laughter are some more serious thoughts that insinuate themselves more easily in this lighter fare. One of the more important is the true nature of a person as contrasted to the public one.

One excellent example is in the person of Signori Papprizzio, played by the ever- skillful Oliver Platt. Although the film abandons political correctness to lampoon his size, with an ongoing embedded joke due to his business stature as the “Lard king of Genoa,” Patrizzio emerges as a man of action, courage, and presence, winning his love based on these qualities of his character rather than a perfect physique.

Perhaps with a little help from Tom Stoppard, who used this framing device so well in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, we see a fine contrast between Casanova the legend and the real flesh and blood fixture as the legendary lover watches his life parodied on stage by puppets. 

Of course there’s much to say about the true nature of love, with Casanova perhaps learning the difference between the act and the authentic article, as well as the potency of passion with the enhancing zingers of loyalty and self-sacrifice. All this from a Hollywood tribute to someone right up there with Don Juan? Who’d have thunk it?

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Except for the occasional apple, the cast and characters of Casanova seem too preoccupied with the pleasures of love, the art of conversation, or the intricacies of dueling to be bothered with eating. But something obviously had to fuel all their passions, so I am opting for a quick pick me up in the true spirit of Venice’s Carnival.

These fried delights go by many names, but I prefer Lover’s Knots.

Lover's Knots

"To begin at the beginning, perhaps the best-known Carnival pastries are Cenci (the word means rags), whose many aliases include Frappe, Chiacchere (gossips), Lattughe (lettuce leaves) and Nastrini (ribbons), while Ada Boni, who borrows Pellegrino Artusi’s recipe, uses the more poetic "Lover’s Knots." They are very pretty when carefully made, so she is probably right. To make a batch you'll need:" -- Kyle Phillips

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup confectioners sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon brandy
  • A pinch of salt
  • More confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Preparation

Make a fairly stiff dough with these ingredients, kneading it thoroughly, and adding more flour if it comes out too soft. Flour it and let it rest, covered, for about an hour. Then roll it out into an eighth-of-an-inch-thick sheet, and use a serrated pastry wheel to cut it into strips as long as your palm and two fingers wide.

Make a cut down the middle of each cencio (so as to obtain two strips joined at the ends), twist the side strips without breaking them, fry them in hot oil or lard, and dust them with confectioners sugar when they’re cool. This recipe is sufficient to make a platterful. Should the dough have formed a crust while it sat, knead it again before you roll it out.

Recipe Source: Italianfood.about.com