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Few moviegoers would know that the real Caravaggio was a convicted
criminal and even by today's standards, a hell raiser. Rome's police
records list fourteen citations in six years, from public nuisance to
several violent assaults. In May of 1606 he murdered a friend, one
Ranuccio Tomassoni in a sword fight. Added to these lurid details, his
sexual interests show that he freely drifted from the Vatican's
ordained model. This makes Caravaggio an interesting person, but a
highly complex candidate for a biographic investigation on film.
While Derek Jarman's film captures (with delightful conceit) many of the surface details of Caravaggio's life, it's a work of startling genius because it succeeds on a far more profound level. Jarman tells the story of Caravaggio rather like Caravaggio would paint, infusing it (effortlessly) with the central themes of his life's deepest convictions, creating a portrait which reflects the subject and the artist with equal relevance. What's more, many of the same themes that have been identified with both artists - sexuality, transcendence, violence, censorship, politics (religious/sexual) and the tumultuous source of creative identity are present in both men. It works as very few films do. This is also an unusually accessible film for Derek Jarman. The performances are entertaining and it's filmed with astounding beauty and simplicity. This film is a masterpiece.
However, because of it's homosexual themes and personal tone, "Caravaggio" is likely to be appreciated only by those viewers who weary of film as simple diversion and long for something more challenging. This is a powerful artistic statement, but it flew under the radar during a decade of British film-making where "Gandhi", "Chariots of Fire" and "A Room With A View" represented the best of what was being made. While those films are great in their way, this film value is greater in terms of bravura and personal expression. See it if you can.
This beautiful visionary art film based on the director's take of the life of Caravaggio was worth the almost 7 years it took to make it. Derek Jarman had the brilliant sense to use Nigel Terry and Sean Bean as the lovers in this meditation on sexuality, criminality and art. This film is more of a fictionalization on Caravaggio using the artist's works as a way to pursue the story of the artist. It is beautiful, as are the actors and actresses, and Sean Bean is a revelation in this very early role, as he plays Ranucio, the love interest of Caravaggio. When he is on screen he steals the movie, as his animal magnetism, sexual energy, and wild persona grip the film and propel the story forward. This is an adult film with homosexual themes and might not be for everyone, but if one is adult and has a sense of taste, and loves art movies, this is a 10 out of 10.
This is not a mainstream movie. You may be very distracted by the presence
of jokey 20th century anachronisms in this otherwise grave movie about the
artistic genius, Caravaggio. 17th century merchants use hand-held
calculators, modern instruments play at the parties, local scribes use
typewriters, servants dress in modern dinner jackets. I sure don't know what
it all means. I guess you can impute many meanings to it.
You may also be irritated by the director in his insistence that everyone is motivated by homoerotic impulses. This facet of the presentation is really more about Derek Jarman than Caravaggio.
Well, I'm not sure that the movie has much to say about Caravaggio at all. After all, Caravaggio shocked his era with his revisionist hagiography - saints with peasant faces, torn clothes and dirty fingernails - probably realistic but iconoclastic in its time, and contrary to a century of previous tradition. Moreover, Caravaggio almost invented the modern system of a consistently represented light source, showing the actual impact of light on his subjects. These key points are barely touched by the script.
But I think you probably should just let those irritations wash over you, and accept the movie for what it is. It uses the style and mood of his paintings to reflect his life, and it incorporates that precise aesthetic into the movie's own visuals. The movie looks like what Caravaggio's own moving pictures might have looked like if he could have created them in 1600.
Is it a good movie? Who knows? It's not so well remembered after a decade or so, but it exhibits a memorable gift for creating and sustaining a mood, and for breathing life into Caravaggio's canvases. It also speculates about the everyday life that must have circulated around the creation of those masterpieces.
I was willing to forgive a lot of artistic pretension and rhetorical dialogue for the superb visuals and atmosphere, and I took vivid memories away from the film. You may feel the same way.
What we know of the life of Caravaggio is unfortunately incredibly limited. The narrative of this film does not really reflect that limited knowledge. From the disjunctive remains of one of the most important figures of all western art A narrative has been formed. The merits of this narrative are debatable and ultimately unimportant. The overwhelming strength of this film lies in the superb cinematography and the incorporation of Caravaggio's artwork into the film. Light emanates from an off screen point, bathing the shot in chiaruscuro lighting that was so signature of his work. The color of the film could be taken from his palate directly. Best of all was when his paintings were played out by the actors. The result is no less than a visually stunning presentation.
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.
Derek Jarman has crafted a beautiful and unique work of art in "Caravaggio". Perhaps the fact that I have a great love for the work of the real Michelangelo Caravaggio, influences my judgment just a bit; It was quite enjoyable to see the paintings come to life, and to witness how they might have actually been created. In fact, much of Jarmans poetic film has the look of a lush, living painting. There is much to admire here besides the aesthetics; the talented and beautiful cast, led by Nigel Terry, the intense-looking Sean Bean, as Ranuccio, and the elegant Tilda Swinton, as Lena; the woman loved by two very passionate, and tormented men. The acting is all around excellent, but Nigel Terry as Michelangelo really stands out. He is great to watch, and brings life to a man the world knows not so much about. Also actor Dexter Fletcher was quite funny and likable in his portrayal of the younger Caravaggio. More than a historical, biographical account of the painter, this is more the study of a classic love triangle. Caravaggio's models were mostly street people, many of them also criminals, and it seemed that he often became personally involved with his subjects. His love for 'Lena' seems to be as strong, if not stronger, than his love for 'Ranuccio'. And this divided love has tragic consequences, for all involved. I didn't find "Caravaggio" an overly gay film, as the subject wasn't focused on obsessively, like other films of this nature tend to do. The love affair between Lena and Michelangelo was given as much attention as the relationship between him and Ranuccio. Therefore those who might feel a little uncomfortable with the subject matter, need not be, as it is actually quite accessible. Recommended, especially for admirers of the painter Caravaggio. As mentioned earlier, there are scenes that are modeled exactly on the paintings. To see these come alive is really something to behold. There is a new region 2 DVD from Germany that features the most beautiful transfer I have ever seen of any film. It comes close to "High Definition" quality, I recommend this as well.
Quite simply unlike any other biographical film you will ever see,
Derek Jarman's acclaimed production of Caravaggio (1986) is a lovingly
constructed, highly personal cross-reference of tormented sixteenth
century genius, twentieth century iconography and a somewhat satire on
the shallowness of the burgeoning eighties' art scene of which Jarman
was very much part of. Exploring Caravaggio's life through his work,
the film distinctively merges fact, fiction, legend and imagination in
a bold and confident approach that will probably leave serious art
enthusiasts and casual viewers outraged by the complete disregard for
accurate, historical storytelling.
Shot with a typically avant-garde approach, director/writer Jarman doesn't so much fashion a biography of the artist, but rather, creates a personal reflection of the man using intimate characteristics that appeal to his film-making sensibilities. This makes Caravaggio more of an interpretation of the filmmaker than the artist himself; somewhat self-indulgently focusing on Caravaggio's struggle with bisexuality, perfectionism and wanton obsession; perhaps even glossing over the more intricate workings of the character, for instance, his own passion for art and his battles with the various religious and creative constraints of the period.
It's a shame some of these ideas aren't further elaborated upon, because, at its heart, Caravaggio is really an exceptional film. As I commented earlier, it's perhaps unlike any other film you will ever see; an iconoclastic vision with a cinematic imagination that knows no bounds. Caravaggio is a film in which a 16th century setting gives way to the various anachronisms of passing trains, tuxedos, motorbikes, typewriters and chic nightclub settings. It is a film in which every frame is rendered in reference to the artist's work, composed with rich, shadowy colours that bring to mind the contrast between fresh and rotting fruit, and an unrivalled interplay between sound and production design that is reminiscent in its intense savagery of two dogs angrily ripping each other to pieces.
There is no other 'based on fact film' that has demonstrated such a wild and evocative recreation of real-life hysteria and events, with the possible exception of Peter Jackson's masterful Heavenly Creatures (1994) or even some of Jarman's subsequent projects like Edward II (1991) and Wittgenstein (1994). With a cast of now very well known faces, such as Nigel Terry, Sean Bean, Tilda Swinton, Michael Gough, Dexter Fletcher and Robbie Coltrane - not to mention some of the most beautiful photography ever committed to film - Caravaggio represents an impressive and enjoyable combination of art and cinema that is now, twenty years on, ripe for rediscovery.
Everything is divided in two concepts: rule and transgression. That
it's not a bad thing but for most people it's difficult to accept them,
to comprehend them and to make both things interesting. Most of the
time we tend to only follow the rules and forget about transgression or
even condemn it.
Caravaggio was a transgressionist in terms of art with his painting evoking religious themes using as models simple people, peasants, prostitutes, fishers, creating powerful masterpieces; and a transgressionist with his dangerous lifestyle, sleeping with men and women, getting involved in fights, in one of these fights he killed a man, reason why he ran away to other countries, and then dying at the age of 38. Then we have a filmmaker, an true artist named Derek Jarman who knows how to portray art on film, breaking conventions, trying to do something new and succeeding at it.
To name one of his most interesting films his last "Blue" was a blue screen with voice overs by actors and his own voice telling about his life, his struggle while dying of AIDS, and he manages to be poetic, real about his emotions, and throughout almost 2 hours of one simple blue screen he never makes us bored. Who could be a better director for a project about the life of Caravaggio than a transgressionist like Jarman himself?
The movie "Caravaggio" is wonderful because it combines many forms of art into one film, capturing the nuances of Caravaggio's colors and paintings translated into the film art. It has poetry, paintings, music of the period of the story, sometimes jazz music. All that in the middle of the story of one of the greatest artists of all time.
This is not a usual biopic telling about the artist's life and death in a chronological order, trying to do everything make sense. This is a very transgressional work very similar to "Marie Antoniette" by Sofia Coppola, so it might shock and disappoint those who seek for a conventional story truthful to its period. And just like Coppola's film "Caravaggio" takes an bold artistic license to create its moments. Jarman introduces to the narrative set in the 16th and 17th century, objects like a radio, a motorcycle, a calculator machine among others; sometimes this artistic license works (e.g. the scene where Jonathan Hyde playing a art critic types his review on his typewriter, a notion that we must have about how critics worked that time making a comparison with today's critics, but it would be strange see him writing with a feather, even though it would be a real portrayal).
The movie begins with Caravaggio (played by Nigel Terry) in his deathbed, delusioning and remembering facts of his passionate and impetuous life; his involvement with Lena (Tilda Swinton) and Ranuccio (Sean Bean); memories of childhood (played by Dexter Fletcher); and of course the way he worked with his paintings, admired by everybody in his time.
All of this might seem misguided, some things appear to don't have a meaning but they have. I was expecting a movie more difficult to follow but instead I saw a truly artistic film, not pretentious whatsoever, that knows how to bring Caravaggio's works into life, with an incredible and fascinating mise-èn-scene, in a bright red that jumps on the screen with beauty. Very impressive.
It's an unique and interesting experience. For those who enjoy more conventional and structured biopics try to watch this film without being too much judgemental, you'll learn great things about the Baroque period because it is a great lesson about the period. For those who like new film experimentations or want to watch a Jarman's film here's the invitation. 10/10
It's easy to be frustrated by movie that seems by its title to be one thing but is so clearly something else. This is no bio-pic of the great artist. It doesn't even create (to me) a more abstract sense of what it might have meant to be such an artist, or to be creative and tormented and a scrappy, sometimes ill man.
Instead it's a movie that uses some themes, and some paintings, of Caravaggio and builds a completely invented (to my knowledge) story line. For one thing, it's set in some fairly recent time--the 1920s or 30s, perhaps? And it's highly highly British, which is no flaw, but it feels part of a 1980s London underground in the expressions and vocabulary. If you can open up to all that, you've made a first step. If you can't, forget it. Run to another version (like the terrific new Italian one from 2007).
The second step is key, too, however, for many of you. This is an overtly homo-erotic, or at least homosexually charged fantasy. It has no overt sex (though there is lots of kissing all around) and it does includes some female actors (including a fabulous Tilda Swinton), but there are lots of "pretty boy" scenes and a sensibility that is just frankly different than the usual film world mainstream.
That's a great thing. That doesn't however make the movie completely work. It's worth watching if you are prepared for its tone, and it's brilliant in some sense, utterly original, a kind of high production value, high culture flip side to the films of Andy Warhol (if that makes any sense at all). There are excesses in violence, bloody, death, love, corporal pleasure and corporal torture--but these are exactly what the 1980s were all about. Think of Robert Mapplethorpe.
It's not my own world at all, but I found it a kind of thrill to see made so rich and colorful, so unexpected every turn. And so photographically beautiful. It is at times disturbing and moving, but mostly it is pretty and fascinating. It lacks a more usual structure, but you get used to that and learn to like it.
Michelangelo Caravaggio was an important Italian painter who led a
short, tumultuous life. He surrounded himself with earthy street people
who became the models for his paintings.
If you're looking for a biopic about the life of Caravaggio, look elsewhere. This chaotic and bizarre interpretation of his life by avant-garde director Derek Jarman is like seeing art history on a bad acid trip. The story opens well enough around the year 1600, and I thought I was seeing things the first time I saw someone in a 20th century tuxedo. I scratched my head at the calculator, but the motorbike and truck were too much. The use of anachronistic images and odd sound effects (trains, crashing ocean waves) was too jarring and distracting for me. There is little dialogue and the narration was incomprehensible. As a fan of Caravaggio's work, I did enjoy the scenes that showed models posing for his famous paintings, but the rest - a montage of unrelated scenes showing his depraved lifestyle - was just distasteful and speculative. I learned nothing of the man and more about the director.
Tilda Swinton made a memorable screen debut in the puzzling role of a young street woman and a very young Sean Bean is interesting as her companion, but Nigel Terry was a confusing and off-putting Caravaggio. Not recommended.
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