The story is about a young woman, Veronica Franco (Catherine
McCormack), who is in love with a wealthy senator, Marco Venier
(Rufus Sewell). Though Marco loves Veronica, he cannot marry below
his class. When he admits this to her, she is so hurt that she
decides to follow her mother's (Jacqueline Bisset) advice and
become a courtesan, as mother had once been.
At first this is meant simply to make Marco jealous, but Veronica
soon finds that being a courtesan is not all that bad: in exchange
for their virginity and their honor, these women basically run
the town. Unlike the proper ladies, who were not expected to do
anything but make babies and do needlework, Venetian courtesans
in 1583 were the wealthiest, best-educated, best-dressed, and
most desired women around. They were trained in poetry and the
classical arts so that they could entertain the menfolk outside
the bedroom as well as in. Unlike today's prostitutes who simply
exchange sex for money, they were more like professional lovers.
Marco does become jealous, of course, and though he is married
to a very honorable woman with whom he cannot begin to relate,
he continues to pursue Veronica, singing to her balcony even as
she is entertaining another. Nowadays, we would call this "stalking."
But she eats it right up. All the flirtatious fun comes to an
abrupt end, however, when Venice goes to war with Turkey. Marco
must join the battle, and while he is gone the plague breaks out
back home. Seeing the population dwindling, a group of religious
zealots accuse the courtesans of drawing God's wrath. As Marco
returns from the war, he finds half his city dead, and the other
half pointing fingers at his beloved Veronica and her colleagues.
This film, a true story based on the book The Honest Courtesan
by Margaret Rosenthal (adapted for the screen by Jeannine Dominy),
is a noteworthy achievement by director Marshall Herskovitz. Exquisitely
bringing to life the lovers' relationship, he uses the cinematography
by Bojan Bazelli to great effect, complemented by George Fenton's
beautiful music. It's clear Herskovitz took the film's title seriously,
emphasizing the beauty of the settings and costumes, contrasted
by the danger of living in such a time.
Superb supporting performances are rendered by Oliver Platt
as Marco's friend and poet, whose unanswered lust manifests itself
as a deadly vendetta; and former courtesan Bissett, whose motherly
advice encompasses subjects at which most parents would blush.
One memorable scene has her educating Veronica on the finer points
of sex with the help of a naked, virile young Venetian
man serving as "guinea pig." It's a tough job...
This film deals frankly with adult subject matter, but the story is not cheapened by the strong sexuality portrayed. It is a complement to all the other elements: the emotion of the love story, the drama of the climactic tribunal, and the overall richness of the production itself. Dangerous Beauty is enjoyable for all, but probably best for consenting adults. ****½
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