Director: Derek Jarman
Screenplay: Derek Jarman and Suso Cecchi d'Amico, from a story by Nicholas Ward-Jackson
Starring: Nigel Terry, Sean Bean, Tilda Swinton, Spencer Leigh, Michael Gough
Running Time: 93 minutes
Genre: Biography, drama
Towards the end of his life, celebrated Seventeenth Century painter Michelangelo da Caravaggio (Terry) reflects on his eventful life, from his youth as a violent hustler and street artist to his rise to fame under the patronage of Cardinal Del Monte (Gough). Caravaggio becomes known for his skill as an artist and notorious for his habit of using people from the street as models for his mostly religious paintings, as well as his habit of sleeping with many of his models, both men and women. His reflections focus on his relationships with thuggish street fighter Ranuccio (Bean) and Ranuccio's girlfriend Lena (Swinton), who both become his models and his muse.
Acclaimed British director Derek Jarman worked for seven years to make a film of the life of the legendary painter Caravaggio, and the original idea was something much closer to the conventional movie biopic to be shot on location in Italy with a fairly large budget. However, the budget fell through at the last minute and Jarman was forced to scale back his plans quite considerably. The film ended up being shot entirely in a studio in London. Possibly as a result of this, the film never aims at an authentic recreation of 17th Century Italy. Instead it kind of exists in a surreal twilight zone somewhere between the world of Caravaggio and the world of 1980s London. There are numorous deliberate anachronisms in the film: characters wear items of modern dress, merchants do their accounts on pocket calculators, an art critic writes venomous reviews on a portable typewriter and Ranuccio works on a motorbike among others. However the film is visually startling. The look of the film attempts to replicate the look and feel of Caravggio's paintings with striking success. It creates it's own world that is both dreamlike and strongly vibrant and physical. The performances are very good, if occasionally overly theatrical. This film marks the movie debut of Tilda Swinton, who went on to do several more films with Jarman, as did Sean Bean. Derek Jarman was a painter himself and the film presents a striking account of the art world. Rarely do biopics of an artist focus so strongly on the actual painting of the works themselves. This film is probably Derak Jarman's finest film and certainly his most accessible. It's well worth checking out.