Did We Need a Typewriter? We Did Not
I realize it's a common stylistic choice to interject the modern and the period. Often, it works to great effect. However, I am perplexed by the scene of the man typing in the bath. For one, I'm not entirely sure who he is. Or is supposed to be. It's theoretically possible that it's Derek Jarman, who wrote the script and directed the movie. On the other hand, he seems to be writing about Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) and the excesses of the Renaissance in present tense. The script would be, of course, but the rest of it? I can't see any reason for it. It [i]must[/i] be someone period, but again, I don't know who. And there is that typewriter, which wouldn't be invented for ages yet. (The first typewritten manuscript submitted for publication was, I believe, [i]The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn[/i], and if it wasn't, it was [i]Tom Sawyer[/i]. Twain, anyway, and he wouldn't come along for quite some time.) If we must have Random Man writing in the bath, a quill would suffice.
Young Caravaggio (Noam Almaz) is sold into what I think must be prostitution. Possibly modeling, but as history, or anyway contemporary texts, hasten to assure us, the difference was not entirely pronounced. Either way, he grows into a fine painter. He must have, since his name has come down to us at all, and not in that sort of "we've read about hist contemporaries mocking him kind of way. He gets into some kind of tangle with model Ranuccio (Sean Bean) and the delectable Lena (Tilda Swinton in her first film). Caravaggio is decadent, probably fooling around with both, and we get all the excesses of Renaissance Rome while we're at it--priests choosing to ignore the vows of chastity, of course. And stuff happens, and you can tell it isn't going to end well for anyone.
It is a lovely film. A clear effort is made to reproduce the visual style of Caravaggio's paintings, and that's great. Well worth the effort and something I approve of in most films about painters. The palette is right, and the colours are beautiful and vibrant. Well done. And, of course, I cannot argue with the casting of Tilda Swinton. She's a woman to pull in the kind of obsession there is over Lena. I'm not sure that the description on the Netflix envelope is quite right--I wouldn't necessarily call it a "bisexual triangle," given that Caravaggio and Ranuccio are not the only two interested in her--but it's obvious that both men are interested in her nonetheless, and whatever Caravaggio feels about Ranuccio, it can't be innocent. Caravaggio is not an innocent person; no more is Ranuccio.
However, I did not reliably know what was going on, and that's a problem. Scipione Borghese (Robby Coltrane) is causing problems for people, but I missed how and why. I [i]think[/i] Cardinal Del Monte is Caravaggio's patron, but I'm not entirely sure. Caravaggio and Ranuccio get into some sort of fight, but I'm not sure why. Everyone's interest in Lena's about the only thing I can get into, and while I think she's implied to be sold into prostitution as a virgin, I'm not entirely sure about that, either--or that she was a virgin at the time. Certainly she isn't inexperienced. Who all is hanging around the studio? Your guess is as good as mine. Churchmen, I think, and possibly other painters, and models, and so forth. The man did not require solitude to paint, it seems.
I think perhaps the artiness is getting in the way of the story. Young Caravaggio seems to be an obnoxious little bugger, but I think we're supposed to forgive him that, because he is awfully pretty. He grows up into a surly, sullen man who is, admittedly, a damn fine painter. The real Caravaggio, and this one, too, I think, had a better knack for making enemies than friends. People respected him as an artist, but if I'm piecing his history together correctly, he was a big fat jerk. I don't think we're supposed to be paying as much attention to that as I did. We're supposed to be looking at how beautiful the painting was. We're not supposed to be questioning why anyone at all would be interested in any of these people, but I can't help it. It's a lovely, lovely film, but it's full of ugly people.