Caravaggio (1986)

Caravaggio is a movie by Derek Jarman starring Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton and Sean Bean.

Caravaggio is a fictionalised biography of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Nigel Terry), a baroque painter. There it focusses on the love triangle between Caravaggio, Lena (Tilda Swinton) and Ranuccio (Sean Bean).

Before you go into the movie, I recommend reading up on Caravaggio and getting acquainted with his paintings. I didn’t and I was utterly bewildered by most of the things until I did.
That’s also the kind of movie it is: One I can appreciate intellectually, but which doesn’t have a lot of entertainment value. You’d have to rewatch it again, probably, to get all the layers, but I’m afraid that I’m not interested enough to do that. [Bad, cultural kalafudra. BAD!] Although, of course, worse things could happen than watching (almost) naked Sean Bean and Nigel Terry getting it on.

Jarman’s movie doesn’t actually have a lot of plots. Rather it’s recreation after cinematical recreation of Caravaggio paintings. Take for example the poster and this Caravaggio original:

Which means that you really should have seen one or the other Caravaggio painting before you see this film.

On the other hand, Jarman not only recreates paintings, but uses principles Caravaggio used in his paintings for his movies. What I mean by that: Caravaggio used to paint biblical scenes with the figures dressed in (then) modern clothes. So Jarman takes the life of Caravaggio and has people using electrical calculators or lights.

But apart from the Caravaggio-spotting, there’s not much entertainment going on here. I mean, qualitatively this is an awesome (in the original sense of the word) film. The camerawork is fabulous, and the acting… I don’t think that Sean Bean was ever this good again. Nigel Terry’s performance was mind-blowing and Tilda Swinton gave a perfect debut.

But the plot is confusing and a little like written by someone with ADD. And if you’re no Caravaggio-expert, this gets frustrating and tedious pretty fast.

Summarising: A movie for movie or Caravaggio über-fans. Other people will be bored.


  1. I’ve read something about Caravaggio and seen a few printings of his paintings (and a few originals, too). Maybe I’ll give it a try. Did I mention Sean Bean as Boromir is one of the most handsome actors I’ve ever seen?

  2. Having watched most of it (ie as much as I could bear), there is only one question in my mind: WTF?

    Dear God, it’s a mess. And the voiceover monologues in the phone sex voice? Not so hot.

    • Well, it’s one of those movies that you watch to have seen them and appreciate their artsy-ness. ;)

      But yeah, it’s pretty difficult to sit through. I probably wouldn’t have watched it to the end if I hadn’t been sitting in the cinema.

      • What bothers me most is that the critics apparently loved it. It won prizes.

        This is a movie in which the person posing as an angel breaks out in unmotivated acrobatics before posing again.

        If I hadn’t already known that I just don’t *get* art, this would have convinced me.

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