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Hallström's Casanova seduces Venice

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12:54 CEST+02:00

The latest in a long list of films about the epic loves of Giacomo Casanova is given a comic spin at this year's Venice film festival by Swedish director Lasse Hällström in "Casanova".

Hallström's witty romantic comedy, starring Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Lena Olin and Jeremy Irons, gives the story of the amorous adventurer a more modern slant, having him fall for a woman who promptly gives him the cold shoulder.

Appearing out of competition, it shows off the astonishing range of Australian actor Ledger, coming so quickly after audiences wept at his portrayal of a conflicted cowboy struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality in Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain," which premiered here in competition.

Here he bursts out of his "Brokeback" cocoon, a dashing sword-swishing seducer flitting over the rooftops of the largely intact 18th century Venice, but also appears befuddled and vulnerable as he searches for the key to unlock the heart of the only woman who won't automatically succumb to his charms -- Francesca Bruni, played by Miller.

"Thousands of women were falling in love with him all the time. So when he finally finds a woman who isn't attracted to any of that, that's what really devastates him, and interests him," said Ledger.

Much of Hallström's busy and visually arresting film revolves around the efforts of papal enforcer Bishop Pucci to catch the famed Casanova in an infidelity and have him strung up. It features Irons in a rare comedy part, something he hasn't done since his early days on stage.

"People don't normally think of me as doing comedy but it was nice to be able to do something unusual," said Irons. "I think there's an element of Inspector Clouseau about Pucci..."

Hallström's picture is the latest and most light-hearted of a string of major movies dedicated to the amourous adventurer, more in line with Bob Hope's 1954 "Casanova's Big Night Out" than Federico Fellini's 1976 study "Casanova" starring Donald Sutherland, which is getting a special screening at the Venice festival.

Hallström previously directed "Chocolat," "The Cider House Rules" and "The Shipping News" after coming to the attention of American audiences in 1985 with "My Life as a Dog" for which he won the Golden Globe for best foreign language film.

As for Ledger, he's not content to stop there in his bid to win over Venice audiences. The last of his three films at the festival, "The Brothers Grimm," will show another facet of his oeuvre when it screens on Sunday.

A new film release by Steven Soderbergh is always an event, but like his film "Bubble," this one has passed quietly in Venice.

Shot with documentary realism in small town Ohio and featuring an impressive local amateur cast, it tells the story of a love triangle between three workers at a doll factory which turns sour when one of them is murdered.

Overweight Martha and the much younger Kyle have become friends by default when their delicate dynamic is upset by the arrival of a new worker, Rose, a young single mother. When Rose is murdered, it isn't long before diligent detective work tracks down the killer.

In other notable releases here, a dark and quirky tale of revenge and redemption by Korean director Park Chan-Wook, "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance," has won plaudits in the official section for the Golden Lion.

The 1997 winner for "Hana-Bi," Japanese director Takeshi Kitano has returned this year with "Takeshis'," a late surprise addition by the organisers to the official 19 film line-up for the festival's prestigious top prize.

However, though Kitano has a devoted cult following at Venice – where he also featured with "Zatoichi" in 2003 -- his comedy got only a lukewarm reception, while deemed stylish, was panned by the daily Corriere della Sera as "repetitive and comprehensively useless."

AFP

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