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  Caravaggio Painterly Passions
Year: 1986
Director: Derek Jarman
Stars: Nigel Terry, Sean Bean, Tilda Swinton, Michael Gough, Spencer Leigh, Nigel Davenport, Dexter Fletcher, Robbie Coltrane, Jonathan Hyde, Sadie Corre, Dawn Archibald, Imogen Claire, Garry Cooper, Vernon Dobtcheff, Cindy Oswin, Jack Birkett
Genre: Historical, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1610 and the renowned painter Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) is lying on his deathbed, seeing his life flash before his eyes. He remembers taking in his young charge who would not only act as his assistant in the following years, but end up looking after him as well, as he is now, attending to his master as he rambles in his fever. As the faces of the past swim into his consciousness, Caravaggio recalls his career, and the events leading up to the point he had to flee Rome for committing a crime. But as with much of his life, it was all down to passion...

Derek Jarman's Caravaggio is generally regarded as his best film, a deeply felt examination of the soul of an artist and how they struggle to convey the heights of human experience compared with the reality which will frequently let them down. Jarman wrote the script, and as often many like to read part of his own life into the world of his films; so it is with the lead character here in a rendering which may not be entirely historically accurate, but does convey a sense of what Jarman believed an artist had to endure to bring his work to life.

However, this director's approach is not going to appeal to everyone, and he made a virtue of something akin to a proud exclusivity, whether it was for aesthetes only or homosexuals only, that can be offputting to those not part of such circles. So it is with this film, which is so intent on creating, on a tiny budget, the atmosphere in which great art can be made that it grows sleepy in its depiction of suffering creative types and their subjects which he uses to paint noble religious figures that are far removed from the models. The scenes where the models pose are oddly camp and artificial instead of inspiring.

But Jarman embraces the idea that this is a modern version of an old story, and he playfully includes anachronisms, whether it's a trilby on the head of Dexter Fletcher's teenage Caravaggio, or Nigel Davenport with a pocket calculator, Sean Bean as the muse Ranuccio tinkering with a motorbike, or Jonathan Hyde tapping away on a typewriter in the bath. These aspects are not jokey, but serve to bring what could have been a pretty musty tale into the eighties, though again, this can be alienating for those used to the Charlton Heston as Michaelangelo school of painter's biopics.

Yet Jarman cannot quite escape the clich├ęs inherent in translating what is somewhat uncinematic: watching someone paint a picture. Therefore to make Caravaggio seem caught up in the ecstacy of creation he does that familiar painting very fast thing, and he has to have a great love of his life to inspire him to fresh realms of genius. Ranuccio is that man, but he also has a sexual relationship with his other half, Lena (Tilda Swinton in her debut), leading to her falling pregnant and tragedy. But with the amount of lounging around - for all the anachronisms, there are definitely no car chases to be seen - means the pace slows to that of a thick syrup and unless you can adjust to that and drink in the golden-hued images and lessons in the angst of an artist, then, dare I say it, you could well find this fairly boring. Music by Simon Fisher-Turner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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