The Look of Love: CASANOVA Recreates the Magical World of 18th Century Venice
When it came to forging the look of CASANOVA, Lasse Hallström chose to aim for a palpable realism--attempting to recreate the mood and atmosphere of Venice at a time when divided streams of sensuality and morality were both flowing through the spectacular, water-bound city.
From the beginning, the filmmakers knew there was only one option in terms of the film's location: Venice and only Venice would work. Long renowned as one of the world's most romantic and enchanted cities, it couldn't be replicated. "It was critical for Lasse to shoot in Venice because there is no place else on earth like it--and Casanova and Venice are inextricably linked," says Mark Gordon. "While it was complicated logistically, Venice is now a major character in CASANOVA and it was well worth the challenges."
Shooting on location is a trademark feature of Lasse Hallström. "The Cider House Rules" was filmed in New England, "The Shipping News" took him to the arctic climate of Newfoundland and "Chocolat" was made in the picturesque villages of France. "I go wherever the script takes me and then I try to get deeply into the life of that place," Hallström says. "The best way of getting to know Venice was to experience it in person. I am fortunate to have been able to shoot the script in a location that inspired the story and every single person in the production."
Hallström was dazzled by the architectural landscape Venice offered. The city's stirring and varied topography, from its warren of narrow streets and bridges to the sweep of the bay, from the splendor of the Piazza San Marco to the romantic allure of the canals, became a key aspect of the film, lending itself to CASANOVA's comic escapades and maze-like adventures in identity shifting. "This film is one of the few movies I know of that has been entirely shot in Venice. The city adds the realism we wanted, while providing wonderfully seductive visuals as well," says the director.
For the cast, shooting in Venice provided constant inspiration. Says Heath Ledger: "It was an absolute dream to shoot in Venice. It was like spending four months in the most amazing museum."
To further bring out the romance and spirit at Venice's heart, Hallström turned to production designer David Gropman, for whom CASANOVA marks his sixth film collaborating with the director. "The thing that I love about Lasse is his humanity and how that filters through into his filmmaking," says Gropman. "He always wants the story he is telling to be as honest as possible and, as a designer, this is of great interest to me."
Gropman scouted as many as sixty locations in and around Venice with Hallström, looking for authentic 300-year-old sites, which he quickly discovered abound. The production utilized such iconic Venetian settings as the Church of Santa Maria della Salute and St. Mark Square, and also gained access to areas that have never been filmed by a major production before, including the Piazza San Marco, which is flooded by every afternoon, and the Palazzo Ducale, the famous pink-and-white gothic palace which is an architectural highlight of the city.
"It's an incredible advantage to shoot in a city where most of the exteriors and a lot of the interiors look pretty much as they did in the 18th Century," Gropman notes. "Once you eliminate the outdoor plumbing and electrics and signs and shop fronts, so much of the baroque and rococo details are completely intact. The primary resource material is right in front of you, around every corner, in every church or palazzo that you wander into. Everywhere you go you are receiving information that informs the choices that you make. Also, while it is a more abstract idea, we were also influenced by the flavor of being with the people of Venice because the spirit of the city is itself so inspirational."
Gropman was especially thrilled with the cinematic potential that lies in Venice's waterways. "I hope that one of the defining visuals in the film will be the water and the boats because that's so much a part of what makes Venice unique in the world. It's also interesting to remember that in the 18th Century, there were even more canals than there are now and fewer bridges, so traveling by water was even more of a part of the culture."
Shooting at centuries-old locations did bring its difficulties, however. "We wanted to use smoke for the texture and the period look but we were unable to do that in a lot of our locations because of the worry that it would hurt the Tintorettos or the fantastic artwork," says producer Leslie Holleran.
There were similar challenges faced by director of photography Oliver Stapleton, who has collaborated with Hallström on "The Cider House Rules," "The Shipping News" and "An Unfinished Life." Often while shooting in Venice, Stapleton was not able to use his usual lighting techniques in case the ancient and fragile interiors being captured were damaged. Stapleton had to use ingenuity to overcome the obstacles, a process that sparked his creativity, he says. "The limitations pushed me in a non-conventional direction," he explains.
Lasse Hallström agrees that the sometimes-difficult circumstances encouraged his team to be more innovative in how they shot the city. "Both Oliver and I pushed ourselves to be a bit more daring with the camera and to find new ways of photographing Venice," he says. "We both know that Venice has been captured so well up to now. We wanted to do something different: to portray the ineffable magic and spirit of the city, which is different from what you might see in postcards or books."
Adds Stapleton: "You could pretty much point a camera anywhere in Venice and get a great photograph: in fact I experimented by taking pictures at random and found that ninety percent of them were pretty good. That's the nature of Venice. The challenge for CASANOVA then was to do something that really describes the place in a new way. A lot of the challenge was to take a lot of time in pre-production to absorb the city and find places to put the camera in the big shots. It was very important to us that in those key moments when the film strikes out into the city that it be epic and startling."
While the filmmakers attempted to bring magic to their depiction of Venice, Venice started working its own magic on them. "Everyone became steeped in a love affair with Venice," admits Stapleton. "And I think it's something that becomes apparent in the movie. It doesn't feel like people moving on sets but rather through a real city in the 18th Century."
One of the key Venetian sequences in CASANOVA comes during Carnevale, the Mardi Gras-style festival during which the rules of society are turned upside down and the city comes alive with bear-baiting, fire-eating, bull-fighting, juggling and all kinds of mischief. This epic festival sometimes lasted for six months and it was a social arena in which all classes could rub shoulders with each other, usually anonymously. Most wore masks, creating an atmosphere in which merriment, mayhem and even deceit often ensued. It was a time of duplicity and deception as well as romance, as torches lit up the waterfronts and the city let its hair down--and Casanova uses this to his advantage in his epic pursuit of Francesca.
Hallström wanted to bring the visceral thrills and wild atmosphere of Carnevale fully to life, so he staged a re-creation in Venice's spectacular Piazza San Marco. Ultimately, the team was so successful in generating the excitement that must have seized the city in the 18th Century that even the local populace was moved.
"To see that local Italians were almost brought to tears when we shot the Carnevale was incredible," says Hallström. "This was the first time such a thing had happened since the 1800s, so it was quite emotional."
He continues: "It was another opportunity to really take advantage of Venice's endless fascination from a visual point of view and let the audience experience something spectacular."
Britches, Gowns, Wigs and Masks: The Costumes of CASANOVA
In a story where disguises and mistaken identities are pivotal to the plot, the costumes for CASANOVA quickly became another essential element of the film's creative design. Add to that the fact that Venice in the 18th Century was that fashion capital of Europe--with its piazzas and palazzos constantly thronged with beautiful courtesans in fabulous creations--and the costuming challenges for the film were quite clear.
To meet them, Hallström collaborated with Academy Award®-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan ("A Room With a View," "Gosford Park," "Alexander") to recreate authentic Venetian outfits from the 1740s and 1750s. "The idea was not to push for comedy in the costumes but to stay real and portray the dramatic splendor of Venice as it actually was," says the director. "It's such a fun period to design and Jenny did a fantastic job in helping me to forge an authentic background. She especially did a great job with the wonderful masks and disguises and some of her dresses are just stunning."
Beavan was immediately intrigued by the story. "I loved that it was a comedy set in such a fascinating period," she says. "The script was very funny but Lasse and I agreed that you don't need funny costumes to highlight the comic elements. It can be much more powerful to remain faithful to such a wonderful period that is filled with interesting fashions in the first place."
Diving into research, Beavan began by looking at artwork from the period, drawing inspiration from such artists as Guardi, Canaletto and Pietro Longhi. "I gleaned from them the colors of Venice, with burnt reds and amber yellows and turquoise blues, and we incorporated those into the costumes for all the main characters," she notes.
Beavan was also struck by how romantic and opulent the clothing of the time was--reflecting an increasing tolerance for open sensuality in society. "The men usually have big skirts with a huge amount of fabric in them and they really strutted about like peacocks. This was a perfect era for Casanova, because the feeling of the cloth actually makes you want to swing your hips. For the women it is quite a long-waisted, big full-skirted period."
She continues: "Venice also had its own peculiarities and special features, mainly to do with Carnevale, where people wore masks so they could go about incognito. They would wear long black capes with a white mask and the look was very ghost-like. I haven't seen this look anywhere else in Italy. It was topped off with a black tricorn hat. For CASANOVA, we used this strange and sinister Venetian anonymity to also play on the fact that there are so many mistaken identities."
To dress Heath Ledger as Casanova, Beavan wanted his outfits to be charming and befitting a man of his reputation without turning him into a dandy, so she kept his look elegant but simple. "This is a comedy so our Casanova is not like the tortured Fellini version, for example," she says. "When our Casanova falls in love with Francesca, it's for real, but he's also a near-mythical character so we played with those lines. I had huge fun with creating his look because it was a wonderful opportunity to make some very beautiful costumes. Also Heath really took to it and loved the heels and lace, and in a way I think he felt that his costumes were a refuge. Heath also studied modern dance for six years so he moves well and makes the clothes look wonderful."
It was Ledger who suggested to Beavan that Casanova might shift from one color outfit to the next throughout the story. "So he has a red outfit, and a blue outfit, and a grey one as well as others," she says. "They're all quite eye-catching and quite sharp. That's the Casanova look. When he relaxes, his shirt hangs out and he lets his stocking roll down but when Casanova goes out, he's putting on an act and he dresses accordingly."
Meanwhile, Andrea and Francesca Bruni, mother and daughter, are a contrast in styles. "The women in CASANOVA are wonderfully strong characters who were a pleasure to dress," says Beavan. "Francesca's a scholar and it's not her way to be interested in clothes, so I dressed her in extremely simple yet quite strong shapes. She could quite easily be a servant but what distinguishes her look is the quality of the fabric. Meanwhile her mother, Andrea, obviously still loves her clothes and, even though they're supposed to be poor, she has kept some wonderful stuff from the times. I think Sienna probably looks more beautiful than if you made her too pretty. And Lena just looks fantastic in anything!"
Dressing the "virginal" Victoria, Casanova's would-be wife who then schemes to bring about his downfall, was another challenge for Beavan. "Pink seemed to be the right color for Victoria, who may or may not be the purest virgin in Venice," she says. "Natalie just took to pink like a duck to water and it felt completely right."
Beavan also enjoyed costuming the supporting male cast, especially Jeremy Irons as Bishop Pucci, who is adorned in melodramatic flourishes of purple and black. "We decided to go for a civilian look for the detective-like Pucci," says Beavan. "We dressed him in black and then got him an extraordinary robe in a rather Anglican purple that looks marvelous on him. Jeremy fancied a waistcoat to go with it and we also found a really eccentric hat for him. Finally I got him a pair of wicked purple gloves!"
On the other side of the comic divide is Papprizzio, the "lard king," a character that could easily have been way larger than life but one that Beavan wanted to look more down-to-earth. "It was actually quite interesting finding the balance for Papprizzio," she comments. "Here is a man who can weigh down a gondola, but we didn't want him to be too ludicrous. When he puts on these rather brash clothes it actually seems to even out his character. I found fabrics that seemed to be right for him: they're a little bit garish, but without being pantomime. We had a lot of fun with Papprizzio. We built him a fat suit that's actually like a cage, so it's not like wearing cushions. It's on a wire structure so it moves a bit and looks quite real."
While Beavan designed the costumes, Maria Teresa Corridoni also went to town with the film's dozens of lavishly detailed wigs, which range from the fashionable to the comical to those used as a wily means of disguise. "Maria is just the best and her wigs are phenomenally good and part of what makes the movie look so great," says Beavan.
The coup de grace for the costumes, as for the rest of the film's design team, were the scenes of Carnevale. Faced with costuming over 500 extras in vintage 18th Century clothes, Beavan had dresses and britches shipped from houses in London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Vienna, Milan and Venice itself. Even with the theatricality of Carnevale, the emphasis was on authenticity. "There aren't any glittery, decorated modern masks--the look is more haunting and sinister," notes Beavan.
It is at Carnevale that Beavan also had a chance to play with identity in exciting ways--as the characters, each with their own agenda, begin impersonating one another. "Francesca's simplicity of dress is such that, hopefully, she looks just as great in a boy's outfit as a woman's. When Casanova pretends to be Papprizzio, I put him in something that looks tremendously rich. I wanted the audience to believe that these people could be seen as who they are impersonating, but at the same time, I didn't want to go too far," she explains. "We were always trying to ride that line between the incredibly fun and the very real."
Casanova's Legacy: A Brief History of the Legend
While Lasse Hallström's CASANOVA takes off into uncharted territory by having the romantic hero fall in love with a woman who rejects him--the film also pays homage to the richness of Casanova's legacy. The subject of numerous novels, plays and motion pictures, Casanova has become one of the world's most enduring modern myths. But he was also a real man with an incredible true history--a spy, soldier, diplomat, writer and adventurer who became a model of living life to its absolute fullest. His memoirs provide not only an entertaining account of his romantic dalliances--they also provide a fascinating snapshot of the Age of Enlightenment and of a man pushing the boundaries of human experiences to their most invigorating extremes.
Who was the real Casanova? A few facts:
Giacomo Casanova was born in 1725 in the city of Venice. His father was an actor and his mother an actress whose beauty was famed across Europe. Though he was a sickly child, plagued by nosebleeds, it was said that he grew up surrounded by strong women who nurtured and enchanted him.
Showing early brilliance, Casanova studied at the University of Padua and entered the seminary at St. Cyprian to become a priest, but was expelled for his scandalous conduct and love affairs. He received his doctorate of law in 1742.
In 1744, Casanova became the Secretary to Cardinal Acquaviva of Rome until scandal again forced him to leave the city, eventually returning to Venice.
Casanova held jobs as a violinist, a clergyman, a secretary and a soldier in several countries. He also wrote prolifically, publishing plays, novels, poetry and pamphlets, though his most famous work would be his epic autobiography, "History of My Life."
In 1749, Casanova met his first great love, Henriette, of whom he wrote: "People who believe that a woman is not enough to make a man equally happy all the twenty-four hours of a day have never known a Henriette." She left him heartbroken.
Chased by the Inquisition for years, in 1755, Casanova was arrested for witchcraft and all his manuscripts confiscated. He was sentenced to five years in a dungeon, but he made a spectacular escape, winding up in Paris, where he was greeted as a celebrity. After making a fortune in the lottery there, he continued his adventures across Europe.
Casanova died on June 4, 1798, at his castle in Dux, in what is now the Czech Republic. In death, he became even more famous, enduring as a symbol of die-hard romance and the obsession with love.
Among the films made about Casanova's life and loves are Alfred Deesy's 1918 "Casanova," Alexandre Volkoff's 1927 "Casanova--The Loves of Casanova," the 1954 Bob Hope comedy "Casanova's Big Night," "Casanova '70" starring Marcello Mastroianni and Federico Fellini's 1976 "Casanova" starring Donald Sutherland.
LASSE HALLSTRÖM's (DIRECTOR)
KIMBERLY SIMI (SCREENPLAY BY/STORY BY)
JEFFREY HATCHER (SCREENPLAY BY)
MICHAEL CRISTOFER (STORY BY)