The French filmmaker Benoît Jacquot (“Diary of a Chambermaid,” “Farewell, My Queen”) is a master of costume dramas with an erotic bent. He brings the European period piece down to earth by pitting aristocratic whimsy against the uglier experiences of the working class, and he’s never afraid to visualize the, uh, unseemly biological realities beneath all those pantaloons and hoop skirts.
“Casanova, Last Love,” his latest foray into the world of powdered wigs and courtly intrigue is no exception, though it pales in comparison to his fiery women-fronted films.
Jacqout reappraises the notorious philanderer by depicting him not as a raucous pleasure-seeker but a weathered sad sack living in exile. In this world, playboys are pathetic and pitiable, which reads like a plea for modern audiences to cut maligned men more slack.
Framed as a series of flashbacks, the film follows Casanova as he wanders phantom-like around the English court — a much more vulgar place than his usual stomping grounds. He falls for Marianne de Charpillon (Stacy Martin), an alluring but cruel prostitute who claims to have encountered him once before when she was an impressionable 11-year-old girl.
Thus begins a desultory cat-and-mouse game that emphasizes the ambiguity of La Charpillon’s intentions, which are complemented by the cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne’s dimly-lit spaces and dreamy, velvet textures.
The terrific French actor, Vincent Lindon, usually plays brooding types with a menacing streak but here he imbues his Casanova with subtle poignancy. It’s an interesting performance that nevertheless transforms Casanova to the point that he is no longer a believable womanizer.
Perhaps that’s the intention: appearances and reputations are deceptive. Though Jacquot throws into question our presumptions about figures like Casanova, as well as vilified women like La Charpillon, he leaves it at that, leaving us wondering what exactly it was all for.
Casanova, Last Love
Not rated. In French and English, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. In theaters.
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