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The 17th century Italian artist Michelangelo Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) lies dying in poverty; he remembers his vibrant life, first as a youth, painting on the streets, selling favours. His favourite model, the handy boxer Renuccio (Sean Bean) and Renuccio's feisty wife (Tilda Swinton) ... and life, and the light, and the anguish of creativity.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Famed for its fabulously evocative recreation of the light/shade luminosity of Caravaggio's oil paintings and for its tempestuous story telling, Caravaggio is nevertheless something of a victim of its times. Made in 1986, when filmmaking sensibilities were still content to have good old English thesps (like Michael Gough as the Cardinal) with plummy accents in major character roles, even when the characters were culturally far from England, the film suffers from an absence of synchronicity with its subject matter. As well as those rounded vowels, some of the actors, like the youth paying the young painter, the charismatic Dexter Fletcher, who speaks with a Cockney accent.

But despite that, it is a wonderfully bold work, simply irresistible to look at for both its lighting camerawork and for its uncompromising exploration of Caravaggio as a bohemian in whose homoerotic orbit lived a range of fascinating characters, including his model Renuccio (Sean Bean), and the model's wife, played by Tilda Swinton in her feature film debut. Nigel Terry delivers what Jarman wants, and whether it's accurate of Caravaggio simply doesn't matter. It's Jarman's Caravaggio. And Jarman has Terry provide the narration through the film, as some sort of stream of consciousness diary written and remembered by a painter with a bent for philosophy.

Jarman was drawn to subjects like this, in which sexuality and art play a rrole (like his 1993 film about Viennese philosopher Wittgenstein, or the 1991 Edward II) and his unique style is not always accessible. In this case at least, the film is accessible, even if Jarman jars our ordinary sensibilities at times with a variety of elements, ranging from wild dances, stabbings and surprise kisses to the sound of a train passing, roll your own cigarettes, a motorised bicycle and a slim electronic calculator. But these, like the out-of-place accents are used to create an atmosphere which Jarman uses to try and convey the sense and sensibility of the time and place and the characters.

Published August 14, 2008

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(UK, 1986)

CAST: Sean Bean, Garry Cooper, Dexter Fletcher, Spencer Leigh, Tilda Swinton, Nigel Davenport, Noam Almaz, Nigel Terry, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gough, Simon Turner

PRODUCER: Sarah Radclyffe

DIRECTOR: Derek Jarman

SCRIPT: Derek Jarman (story Nicholas Ward-Jackson)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gabriel Beristaint

EDITOR: George Akers

MUSIC: Simon Fisher-Turner

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Christopher Hobbs

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Christopher Hobbs (Production Designer) interview; Derek Jarman interviews x 2; Tilda Swinton and Nigel Terry interviews; audio commentary by cinematographer Gabreil Beristaint production design gallery, image gallery


DVD RELEASE: July 1, 2008

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