Most of us know Casanova as a notorious playboy, a provocateur. While that’s undoubtedly true, director/co-writer’s Benoît Jacquot’s visually gorgeous Casanova, Last Love (Dernier amour) explores the deeper shades of the complicated, deeply intellectual figure, who also happened to be a gambler, spy, astrologer, writer, and mathematician. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of coital action in this delightfully raunchy and oddly touching romp.
“People exaggerate,” an elderly, world-weary Casanova (Vincent Lindon) says when a young girl confronts him about “the women.” A broke, suffering librarian, he’s busy scribbling what would become a legendary memoir, Story of My Life. It doesn’t take long for Casanova to delve deep into his memories and for the film to flashback three decades, back to when our Italian hero was banished to London for his shenanigans.
After reconnecting with opera singer La Cornelys (Valeria Golino) and engaging in several promiscuous acts, Casanova meets Marianne de Charpillon (Stacy Martin) and is instantly smitten. Marianne’s mother is allegedly working on an Elixir of Life, and Marianne wants Casanova to invest. But the truth about the elusive young lady threatens to unravel the would-be lovers. Perhaps for the first time in his life, the womanizer finds himself challenged by the opposite sex.
“…Casanova meets Marianne de Charpillon and is instantly smitten.”
Speaking of sex, the audience would surely be disappointed if a film about the world’s most famous philanderer wasn’t bursting at the seams with naked flesh. Casanova, Last Love won’t let you down in that department. There’s a threesome, an impromptu hook-up in a horse carriage, an all-out orgy, and an awkward moment involving getting busted during foreplay. Jacquot and writers Jérôme Beaujour and Chantal Thomas don’t shy away from Casanova’s coital acts but don’t dwell on them either; it’s all tastefully done.
The costume and production designs are impeccable. In a period piece like this, attention to period detail is crucial. The filmmaker and his team seem to have nailed it down to every button on the characters’ costumes. Cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne’s beautiful shot compositions complement the narrative, each sequence doused in eye candy. Vincent Lindon and Stacy Martin play off each other well, the former forlorn but charming, the latter playful but sad.
Casanova, Last Love explores what happens when your expectations are challenged, when someone turns your world upside down and makes you reevaluate yourself. It does lose momentum from time to time, rendering certain sequences borderline sleep-inducing. Some of its antiquated sexual politics may rub a few the wrong way. Sappy melodrama creeps in here and there. But as a study of a figure known primarily for having lots and lots of sex, it gets the job done. We may not learn about Casanova the gambler or the spy, but we get to see a vulnerable side previously unexposed.
"…beautiful shot compositions complement the narrative, each sequence doused in eye candy."