Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
United Kingdom, 1986. British Film Institute, Channel Four Television. Story by Nicholas Ward Jackson, Screenplay by Derek Jarman. Cinematography by Gabriel Beristain. Produced by Sarah Radclyffe. Music by Simon Fisher-Turner. Production Design by Christopher Hobbs. Costume Design by Sandy Powell. Film Editing by George Akers.
One of Derek Jarman’s most enjoyable films is this deeply emotional, artistically rich exploration of the great Renaissance painter. Nigel Terry plays the wildly violent, passionate and emotional artist who is thrashing around on his deathbed and looking back on his experiences in developing as an artist. His young years (portrayed by Dexter Fletcher) were spent painting with the encouragement of a Cardinal (Michael Gough), then as an adult the centre of his reflections is the love triangle created when he meets a handsome boxer (Sean Bean) and becomes enamored of him before falling in love with Bean’s jealous girlfriend (Tilda Swinton, in her screen debut). Anachronisms typical of Jarman’s visceral style abound everywhere, there’s a dedication to period in the costumes and general griminess of the actors but also the odd inclusion of a car or train or calculator. It touches on biographical details, such as his relationship to the Vatican, but the intent is more to explore the nature of artistry and inspiration than to describe an itemized account of Caravaggio’s birth-to-death experience. Inspired views of the creation of the great artist’s paintings, not to mention painterly photography that makes every shot look like it should have a wooden frame around it, make this one of the obscure British filmmaker’s most satisfying works.