Jarman's biography of the painter may be him most accessible film in the sense that it has a fairly straightforward narrative stream to it, even though it's style is quite avant-garde. Nigel Terry stars as the volatile painter, who's drinking, fighting and whoring ways puts him at odds with the Church while his magnificent detailed religious paintings were in demand.
Interesting in the way it brings avant-garde aesthetics to a standard biopic narrative, but Jarman's need to break formula ends up going a bit too far and ends up largely meaningless. There are interesting ideas, virtually all of them left underdeveloped, but the film offers little to hang onto beyond those ideas.
A bit impossible to fully understand but impossible to take your eyes off the screen. Philosophical, nonsensical stream of consciousness from Caravaggio, lots of wordless sexual interplay, and a story that leaves much out (or to the imagination) make this a bit frustrating if a standard biopic is your chief concern. But those images, much like a Caravaggio painting, bathed in dark and light, browns and reds.
"A kinky ode to chiaroscuro and the dark side of the Renaissance, a luxuriantly eccentric look at the Bad-Boy-as-Artist. (Caravaggio, pioneer of chiaroscuro, is in some ways the patron saint of cinematographers, from Gregg Toland to Vittorio Storaro)." - Michael Wilmington, LA Times
The only possible explanation: Derek Jarman actually went to Magic Film School, where he majored in Cinematic Alchemy; this is the result of his thesis project - "The Transmutation of £450,000 Worth of Standard Elements of Film into Something Entirely Sublime". 5 stars only because there aren't more to click.
A series of luminous impressions; it hardly sticks to the chronology of the great man's life for it to be a biopic, and Terry is too reflective for it to feel like a meticulous character study. Yet in those impressions it captures so much of the beauty of his work, the bathetic tumult that rode alongside his genius, and the regret he must have felt at the end. The sadness and Caravaggio's paintings will last forever.