Dir: Derek Jarman, 1986. Starring: Nigel Terry, Dexter Fletcher, Sean Bean, Tilda Swinton, Spencer Leigh. Cult/Gay Cinema.

To be considered the "second coming" of anything is a huge weight to carry upon one’s shoulders. Caravaggio is the story of Michelangelo Caravaggio (Nigel Terry), a painter who is seen as the new Michelangelo amongst his supporters, and a priest who discovered him while he was a teenage prostitute. The film shifts between three stages of Caravaggio’s life: his adolescence, his middle-aged years, and finally, his last few days on his deathbed where he dies slowly, in agony and in exile. The entire film is set in a timeless Vienna, part regal and part modern, which seems to be the norm in Jarman’s films.

In his adolescence, Caravaggio (Dexter Fletcher) is a hustler, using his paintings to make extra money on the streets or taking direction from his "guardian" to return home with the male buyers when their interest is not in his paintings. His work is mainly mimetic and consists of still-lifes of fruit or people, and eventually falls into the hands of a priest whose church looks after Caravaggio once he becomes gravely ill for the first time. He then begins a sort of commission for the church in exchange for money and support, ironically or purposefully similar to the late Michelangelo in reality. This sponsorship continues into his adulthood, but his work changes from the simply mimicry of objects and people into the bold representations of them. With each painting, he uses live models to recreate sorrowful, if not gruesome details of the human condition.

While at a pub, his eyes fall on Ranuccio (Sean Bean), a boxer whose striking good looks and Grecian physique become irresistible. He starts using him as a model for most of his paintings thereafter, paying him absurd amounts of money and allowing his girlfriend, Lena (Tilda Swinton), to come along for the ride. But as Caravaggio’s love for Ranuccio grows, so does Lena’s love of Caravaggio’s money, sparking a bitter love triangle that eventually ends in despair.

In his later years, he adopts a young mute boy named Jerusaleme, who becomes his assistant, companion, and adopted son. When finally exiled for his radicalism and bad company, Jerusaleme (Spencer Leigh) is now a young man who waits faithfully by Caravaggio’s side like a saint during his final days. The shifting between the various stages of Caravaggio’s life can be explained by daydreams of his former life and lovers he has on his deathbed .

This is one of Jarman’s films that is a bit slower and more refined in terms of plot, but as a whole, the slowness of it actually aids the story and makes it more complete. As with other films from the director, Caravaggio is a vibrant and colorful film that sort of re-writes history and adds comedy into the strangest of moments. It is also a bit darker than his other work and requires a bit more involvement from the audience, which was a welcome surprise.

Some of the names featured in the lead roles have become staple actors and are still dishing out wonderful roles today, but I personally like to see their early work and drive that they had to filter before they could reach stardom. My favorite of the bunch was Tilda Swinton (Burn After Reading, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), simply because this was her first major role and she did an outstanding job by being absolutely versatile when her character called for either complete androgyny or ultra-feminine grace. Sean Bean surprised me as well because I’m used to seeing him in very macho roles, as in Troy and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Overall, this movie has some very tasteful filmmaking, wonderful camera work, and early roles from actors/actresses that are sure to impress.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jun 7, 2010 4:42pm
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