Caravaggio is an art movie in every sense of the term, following the famous painter as he creates his vivid chiaroscuro masterpieces, and uncovering the emotional states that led to such dramatic visions.
While it’s about painting, and there are plenty of scenes of Caravaggio (Dexter Fletcher and Nigel Terry) working on a canvas, it’s less about the act of creating a picture than it is about the turbulent emotional states behind Caravaggio’s dramatic and evocative works. It focuses on the love triangle between the artist, his muse Ranuccio (Sean Bean) and his girlfriend Lena (Tilda Swinton). Fletcher excels as the young artist, Swinton is at her androgynous best and Bean is excellent as the handsome young Ranuccio.
It’s limited in its scope, employing only a small number of characters in tiny spaces, but it managers to be enormously expressive. Derek Jarman’s direction is equally limited with sparse music to match its restricted locations. Images from his paintings are woven into the film and set up perfectly to resemble the paintings themselves – possibly more so than the real life scenes they were based on. It must have been painstaking to set it up with such precision but the effort pays off.
There’s something quite interesting about recreating a scene based on a painting – it’s almost reverse painting. It would be fascinating to know how accurate the recreations are to the real events. The result is a challenging but intimate examination of the psyche of a great artist, packed with idiosyncrasies which make this feel like a unique work of art in its own right.