Review of Caravaggio

Caravaggio (1986)
It's about seeing
26 September 2020
Caravaggio is a sumptuous beautiful film - Jarman's best work.

It is constructed in set-pieces. This device invites us to look at the work of the Renaissance painter in the way that HE would look at his tableau vivant. It's revealing. But this film is not about the art of Caravaggio - it is about Caravaggio the person and the way he is seen by us today. Jarman helps us to see him.

The film work is outstanding, the compositions and lighting are perfect and help us into the "eye" of the painter. We see the world the way he does.

We also see Caravaggio the way his contemporaries see him. This isn't always easy. The church figures admire him but others do not. Jarman has chosen this subject because he empathises and wants us to empathise too. There is a subtlety to the way Jarman achieves this; Caravaggio takes in a poor young deaf and dumb boy and looks after him right at the beginning. He expresses and demonstrates genuine love. We see a real and vibrant person - dangerous but someone we would want to meet - someone who has motivations we might understand and appreciate. There is the "affair" with Ranuccio (Sean Bean) and a knife fight that could have gone nasty - but doesn't. Caravaggio does end up cutting his throat but in a completely different context - Jarman gives us another slant.

Towards the end we realise that Caravaggio is not wholly set in the 16/17th Century! There are several anacronisms; We see the front of a truck and a typewriter for example. It was his habit to paint contemporary dressed figures in his biblical pieces - but I think there is another reason why Jarman does this;

I have a theory that the construction of Caravaggio is such that by the time we get to the end our skills of "seeing" have been so highly sharpened by watching that we notice things that we would not have noticed had we not sat through this film. It's about here too that we realise that this is one of the points that Jarman is trying to make; It's about seeing. We peel through layers of seeing and arrive at the one that feels right. Despite the fact that we know he is a murderer, in Caravaggio we reach a view that he is a good and decent man. Jarman's treatment ensures that we don't see him in a negative light.

Overall Caravaggio is a very strong offering. Make sure you see it.
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