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Stewing in Rome's underbelly during the late Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo da Caravaggio was plucked from the streets by the Catholic Church to paint austere Biblical exaltations. Derek Jarman masterfully captures not only his rampant flirtations with Roman counterculture, but also beautifully saturates this film with the same delicate attention to the chiaroscuro techniques the painter so expertly crafted. Starring 2007 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, The Chronicles of Narnia) in her debut film role, Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings), and Nigel Terry (Excalibur) in the title role, Caravaggio is a lush re-imagining of the volatile life of the 17th-century painter and his brilliant, nearly blasphemous paintings.
- Restored anamorphic transfer, created from Hi-Def elements
- Video interviews with actress Tilda Swinton, actor Nigel Terry and production designer Christopher Hobbs
- Audio commentary by cinematographer Gabriel Beristain
- Rare audio and video interviews with Derek Jarman
- Storyboard, notebook, production photo and design sketch galleries
- Original theatrical trailer
- English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
- Liner notes by film critic/producer Colin MacCabe
"Spectacular, painterly camerawork. The mood is much like that of Caravaggio's paintings--brooding, sensual, pagan in the extreme." --Newsweek
"Flashes of ingenuity and visual brilliance. A pleasure to look at!" --The New York Times
"[Jarman's] long-gestated, deeply personal biopic of the complex, unaccomodated homosexual painter, is his masterpiece." --The Guardian (UK)
Top customer reviews
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The main reason the film works for me is Jarman's use of light, shadow, and color along with the recreation of the stagings of the subjects of Caravaggio's paintings (He began his career as a painter before becoming a set designer -Ken Russell's THE DEVILS- and film director). The remarkable visuals, the quality performances of Nigel Terry, Sean Bean, Tilda Swinton (in her film debut) and the intruiging screenplay by the director kept me continually engrossed in the proceedings. I highly recommend that you run the film with subtitles so that you don't miss a word of Nigel Terry / Carvaggio's voiceovers. They enrich and help you to understand the nature of the subject and of the film itself.
In addition to the reasons listed above, I applaud CARAVAGGIO for its strong supporting cast (Michael Gough, Robbie Coltrane, Nigel Davenport), fluid camerawork, and creative use of a limited budget (the film was financed mostly by Britain's Channel Four) which works to Jarman's advantage as it gives him tighter creative control over what he wants to show and how he can show it. This is closer to a filmed play (that borrows heavily from Bertolt Brecht) than an actual movie although it is very cinematic. Jarman's use of homoerotic imagery is less pronounced here than in many of his other works but that will still bother some people. Fortunately a lot less than it did 25 years ago.
For me CARAVAGGIO was not a complete success but I still rate it 5 stars for accomplishing everything it did on such limited resources. Because it deliberately refuses to be your average film biography, it has managed to stay with me a lot longer than many more accomplished films of that nature. Whether I completely like it or don't like it should have nothing to do with its overall rating. In my opinion it's what you do with what you've got that counts for everything and Derek Jarman's films in general and CARAVAGGIO in particular have managed to achieve quite a lot.
There isn't much of a story in Caravaggio beyond the day-to-day activities of a sensuous, intelligent and genius of a painter. The motto on Caravaggio's stiletto says Nec Spe Nec Metu (no hope no fear). A rather wise and clear-eyed philosophy of life. This film is rather wise and clear-eyed as well despite the lack of riveting narrative and dramatic impetus.
The cast is superb. Nigel Terry is wonderful as Caravaggio, his low-key style of acting fitting in well with this enigmatic and world-weary character. Sean Bean is beautiful and fascinating as Ranuccio, Caravaggio's purported lover. I say purported because, unlike many of Jarman's films, there are no obvious scenes of sex or nudity. Much is suggested but not blatantly depicted.
The supporting cast is outstanding, especially Tilda Swinton in her first screen role.
The greatest reason to see this film is the cinematography which is like a Caravaggio painting come to life. The colors are magnificent, and you can almost smell the oil paints and linseed and straw on the ground, not to mention their filthy feet!
The way to watch this film is to go in to a mild trance and let the visuals wash over you. Don't look for Sean Bean's naked body either, there is no nudity at all, at least in the version I watched, which was not the special edition or the director's cut. Perhaps, if a director's cut exists, there is more to see in the flesh department.
A fine, thought-provoking film for a rainy Sunday afternoon.