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.
1. Watching Andy Warhol's "Hamburger" (as it's much shorter)
2. Having gum surgery (assuming you're knocked out and receive pain killers after the procedure)
3. Putting a blunt, dirty scalpel into both eyes (as it will prevent you from ever having to view "Caravaggio").
what was i smoking?
it's Felliniesque in is decadence and hedonism. sits in high company with Gilliam's Brazil, Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, and Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover as the epitome of '80s cinematic style. like those films, it suffers in it's style over substance; heavy in it's analogy and light in character development.
avant-garde biopic of the artist is stunningly filmed. the paintings come to life in stunning interpretations of the original works.
amazing cast in early roles (Tilda Swinton, Sean Bean and Robbie Coltrane).
There are many merits from the film I can recapitulate, firstly, the recreation of Caravaggio's oeuvre is thrillingly overwhelming and a chief accomplishment is the starkly austere setting (a Silver Berlin Bear for its visual shaping that year is the most cogent proof for both), constituting a cocktail of the simplicity from the mundane world and the inexplicable lust from the spiritual concussion.
Secondly, a theatrically radical group of thespians manages to embroider the no-frills narrative, which has been dispatched into several erratic episodes, with some passionately innovative punch, name checking the very young and rookie couple Sean Bean (smoking hot!) and Tilda Swinton (for whom this film is her debut), and as the titled genius, Nigel Terry resembles a doppelgänger image of the artist, while relentlessly contributing a scorching destructive epidemic to the character itself. Other small roles, such as Jack Birkett?s Pope, Robbie Coltrane?s Scipione Borghese and Dexter Fletcher?s younger Caravaggio are all surrealistically wacky.
Thirdly, the film is far from a biographical recount, a downright English accent and many deliberate anachronisms (smoking, typewriter e.g.) are contrived to amplify the zany flare to its cult hut, a phantasmagorical interpretation of the artist?s ill-fated life.
Clearly the film could be pigeonholed into a love-it-or-hate-it category like other non-mainstream films from genuine auteurs, and this time, my gut-feeling is being exaltedly dumbfounded.
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.