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Beautiful to look at, but lacking a third dimension
What we know of Caravaggio suggests a strutting brawler with a healthy sense of entitlement who lived amongst whores and thieves and hustlers and put them on canvas. His works' themes were sex, death, redemption, above all, finding the sacred within the profane. He lived at a time where homosexuality carried a death sentence and political intrigue normally involved fatalities in a society defined by the maxim "strangling the boy for the purity of his scream".
You can't fault Derek Jarman for his cinematography, nor his recreations of Caravaggio's paintings and you certainly can't accuse the man of shying away from the homosexuality. But frankly, Jarman never strays beyond 80s caricature. Italian patronage becomes the 80s London art scene complete with pretty waiters and calculators. Sean Bean is a sexy bit of Northern rough oiling his motorbike. Tilda Swinton performs a transformation worthy of a Mills and Boons ("Why, Miss Lena, without that gypsy headscarf, you're beautiful..."). Jarman provides Caravaggio with a particularly trite motive for the murder which left him exiled.
This could have been a visually stunning treatment of a man whose life was dangerous, exciting, violent and decadent but who nonetheless elevated the lives of ordinary people to the status of Renaissance masterpieces, looked on by Emperors and Kings. Instead, what you get is Pierre et Gilles do Italy. The pretty bodies of young boys are shown to perfection, but never the men who inhabit them. Jarman appears to satirise the London art scene, showing it shallow and pretentious. To use Caravaggio and Renaissance Italy to make the point is to use a silk purse to make a pig's ear. In fairness, this film remains visually stunning, but ultimately as two dimensional as the paintings it describes.
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