Lasse Hallström's film Casanova
is a patchwork of plot twists, humorous deceptions, and mistaken identities as Casanova (Heath Ledger) weasels his way through Venice in pursuit of the lovely but skittish Francesca (Sienna Miller.) This brilliant girl, who writes philosophy and proto-feminist texts under an assumed male name, rejects him because she fears he cannot commit himself to just one woman - even though Casanova is determined to convince her otherwise.
But there's a secondary story in this movie too, one in some ways almost more romantically warming than the sometimes literal back-and-forth sparring between Casanova and Francesca. For Francesca has been betrothed to her late father's friend, the ample-bodied lard merchant Paprizzio (Oliver Platt enhanced with a fat suit) whom neither Francesca's mother Andrea (Lena Olin) nor her daughter have ever seen.
Paprizzio has come to Venice to claim his bride, docking in a ship festooned with Bacchanalian carvings of big-bellied men. Shrewd and aggressive in business but shy and insecure when it comes to women, Paprizzio feels abashed and inadequate because he knows he's not "handsome," and he begs Casanova for "help."
Hallström pulls a "bait and switch" with this character. At first we see Paprizzio as a clown, and his nadir comes when Inquisitor Pucci (Jeremy Irons) finds him undergoing a humiliating "treatment" in Casanova's apartment, where he's stretched out, rack-like, on a table and slathered with noxious goo. Pucci thinks he's Casanova, and before arresting him, sneers at his mostly-naked form, "Somehow I find it difficult to believe that ... this ... is what women want." We take the bait - obviously Paprizzio is simply a "fat fool."
The switch comes during the Masked Ball scene, the apex of the story where all hidden is revealed. Ironically, a window for happiness opens up for Paprizzio because of the very attribute which initially made him ashamed - because Francesca's mother likes big men. (As she tells Casanova while he's pretending to be Paprizzio, "I don't like thin men - Francesca's father was enormous.")
An angry Paprizzio stalks into the Ball with the cold controlled fury of the phlegmatic man. He walks slowly, ponderously, towering over many of the revellers. Whatever happens, we know it isn't going to be good for anyone who gets in his way. Then Andrea sees him, and it's wonderfully filmed. She stares unabashedly. He stops, hesitant. He can sense someone's watching him, but whom?
Then he sees her, and she instinctively puts her fan in front of her mouth, that "veiling" expression to hide the well of overflowing emotion. Suddenly we see him as she does - he moves from fat and awkward to strong, powerful - and desirable.
In sweet confusion, Paprizzio thinks that Andrea is really Francesca, his fiancee. "I never imagined you would be so beautiful," he breathes. Andrea tells him that Francesca is in love with someone else, and the change in tone is palpable. You can almost see Paprizzio's heart swell with hope. When Pucci interrupts them, Paprizzio casually lifts him by the neck and in an almost-whisper says, "Why don't you stop interfering, thank you?" and so Pucci scurries off, ratlike.
For Paprizzio has escaped both racks - the rack of the Inquisition, and the rack of the desire to appear as he is not, according to some ideal of beauty which does not fit him, and which (confirmed by Andrea's love) he does not need.