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Popular Representations

Casanova (2005)

Having already watched two modern representations of Venice in two films, after further research I came across a list of films on the internet that listed a range of films that are set in Venice. One of the films on this list that stood out to me was the 2005 film, Casanova, starring the late Heath Ledger and British actress Sienna Miller. The tale of Casanova is legendary; Casanova is an infamous womaniser and meets his match in the beautiful Francesca who does the unthinkable to Casanova – resists his advances and undeniable charm. With Venice as the backdrop for the movie, a tantalising tale of love, betrayal, deceit and quest for true love begins.

In one of the first scenes of the movie, the cityscape of Venice is seen from a distant island. The image is filled with towering buildings, surrounded by water in the middle of nowhere; Venice appears almost isolated and secluded from any other neighbouring islands or cities, reiterating connotations associated with Venice. In previous representations it is implied that Venice is situated lone, but in Casanova it is the first time I have seen just how isolated Venice really is. Surrounded by nothing but water, it really does make it seem like Venice is alone with nothing but the water for company and also makes Venice seems unreachable by outsiders. These connotations are important when it comes to considering Venice as a place and poses some intriguing questions – why was Venice created on its own as a separate island from the rest of Venice? Is it seen by the inhabitants of Venice as exclusive to them, thus alienating outsiders? Or does it have the adverse effect and consequently alienate the inhabitants of Venice from the rest of Italy.

The next significant scene is one of Casanova seducing various women, further reinforcing archaic connotations associated with the culture of Venice, connotations of sex and promiscuity. It also reinforces connotations seen in other representations of Venice that I have watched.

The architecture of Venice is also prominent throughout the movie. There is one scene where there is a wide shot of a gondola gliding along the canal, overshadowed by old, Venetian buildings whilst moving underneath several bridges. These three items bring into analysis the construction of Venice, perhaps even drawing upon ideas derived from the Futurist movement. That said, my knowledge of Futurism is weak at the moment and I intend to expand my knowledge throughout the research project, therefore I have no intention to create comparisons at this point. But the scene described above did make me consider the different elements, such as the fact the gondola acts as a key mode of transport around the city, perhaps one of the only forms of transport due to Venice being surrounded by water; also, the bridges that the gondola passes under acts as the key point of connection throughout the city for its inhabitants to manoeuvre around the city. A key question that I have is that surely it’s problematic to move around the city freely, without having to find a bridge to cross over to get from one point to the next, or to have to pay for a water taxi or gondola to take you to your destination. My main question is; is the construction of Venice problematic for its inhabitants?

In another early scene it shows a play taking place in the town square and many inhabitants are observing. The play is actually based around Casanova’s escapades, and the scene observed is one that mocks Casanova and his promiscuity with females. This scene is an example of the carnivalesque. Bakhtin defined carnivalesque as a parody of official life; the life of Casanova is parodied in the form of a comedic play, with its purpose to degrade Casanova and his exploits. Ultimately, an aspect of official life that is relatively frowned upon when made public knowledge is made light of in the form of the play, perhaps helping the Venetian’s to casually accept Casanova’s notoriety.

Following this scene, Casanova is shown having intercourse with a Nun from the local church, showing an example of grotesque realism. As Nun’s are supposed to be celibate, by Casanova tainting the Nun by this act he is ultimately degrading and overpowering an authoritative institution; the church. Grotesque realism is a genre that brings down to earth anything ineffable or authoritarian, as Vice (1997) states and that is exactly what Casanova attempts to do by taking advantage of the Nun – as the Nun breaks her vow of celibacy for the sake of a liaison with Casanova, she has tarnished what herself and the Church stand for.

Moving on from this point, it is apparent that throughout the movie the theme of religion is key, as many characters within the movie make many references to the Church, the Pope and the Vatican; it clearly shows that religion is an extremely important aspect within Venetian culture, and many graphic references to old Churches and other religion related mise-en-scene reinforce this.

In The Talented Mr Ripley I mentioned how Venice was used to conceal Ripley’s identity and, again, Venice is used as a metaphorical mask in Casanova. In order for Casanova to woo his next conquest he realises that he must adapt a different identity and this is precisely what he does. By adopting another individual’s identity, the habitus of Venice is used to protect him as everything that happens takes place within Venice. Also, at the Carnevale ball masquerade masks are used to conceal his identity further; at this point he is using a physical and metaphorical mask to conceal his identity and also reiterates a key point that all three representations I have analysed have all dealt with the theme of identity.

Developing the concept of identity, at the end of the film when one individual is questioned about why they won’t leave Venice, they turn around and say “I’m Venetian”. This is intriguing as I have never fully considered what the inhabitants of Venice class themselves as – whether Venetian or Italian. This statement makes reference to what I have mentioned about Venice being situated alone and separate from mainland Italy. Seeing as Venice is a separate component of Italy, perhaps the culture of Venice is different and separate from the culture of Italy; an individual culture. Also, it appears that being Venetian is also an intense connection which prevents inhabitants to leave Venice easily; they feel attached the habitus of the city.

This representation was definitely my favourite to watch and analyse and I felt that I had the chance to consolidate what I had already learnt throughout the research project. For example, I was able to consolidate the concept of carnivalesque and contextualise its definition within this representation. The next stage is to now compare and contrast the representations that I have analysed against representations that other members of my group have analysed. Also, I fly to Venice in two weeks time which means that I will be able to experience Venice for myself and will be able to make my own comparisons between the way it is represented in popular media forms and how Venice really is when directly experienced.

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