Last Update: 19 August 2002
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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was one of the last painters of the Italian Renaissance. As a youth he sold his paintings on the streets of Rome; as an adult, his constant companion was a deaf-mute boy he'd bought as a child; his models were usually prostitutes and low-life street people; he fled from Rome to Naples after killing a man; and he died a pauper.

Writer and director Derek Jarman created this biography on a shoestring budget of $715,000 from the British Film Institute, shooting in abandoned warehouses along the Thames River in the Isle of Dogs in London. Production began on 02 September 1985 and ended six weeks later. The story is told in a series of flashbacks as Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) lies dying in poverty.

For more pictures from Caravaggio, click here.
Click here for the Caravaggio press kit
Visit Zeitgeist Films, the current distributor for the re-released version of Caravaggio.

Part fiction, part fantasy, and partly based on the known facts about the painter's life, the film follows Caravaggio's childhood on the streets, to his sponsorship by the wealthy Cardinal Del Monte (Michael Gough), to his infatuation with the streetwise gambler, Ranuccio (Sean Bean), whom he hires as one of his models.

When Ranuccio's prostitute girlfriend Lena (Tilda Swinton) announces she is pregnant, there is some question as to the identity of the father, since Caravaggio has also fallen in love with her. Lena is later found dead, having drowned in the river, and Ranuccio is arrested and charged with her murder. Caravaggio believes Ranuccio innocent and engineers his release, only to find his model now admits to the killing. Enraged, Caravaggio slits Ranuccio's throat.

In a film filled with eccentricities, some of the most humorous involve the use of deliberate anachronisms - pocket calculators, motorbikes, typewriters, airplane noises in the background. Caravaggio is credited with inventing chiaroscuro, a style of theatrical lighting employing artfully placed shadows, and this technique is carried over into the actual design of the film, where the live recreation of Caravaggio's paintings earned cinematographer Gabriel Beristain an award at the Berlin Film Festival on 26 February 1986.


Derek Jarman also directed the video for the Pet Shop Boys' hit, It's a Sin.

Chris: "Then Chips from PMI3 said Derek Jarman, didn't he? Chips phoned him and he came round within half an hour with a posse of designers and people. We were very impressed - he was so enthusiastic."

Neil: "Originally we wanted it to look very medieval but when he came back with a script, he said he thought we should have a mixture of modern and old and we agreed. He used a lot of the people who worked in his film Caravaggio. We wanted it to look beautiful, so that every frame looked like a painting. There are lots of well known people in it - Ron Mood - plays the head of the inquisition, Stephen Linard, who designed my West End Girls long coat, played Envy and the artist Duggie Fields played Avarice. "It was filmed at Millennium Wharf in London; Boy George was filming the video for Sold in the warehouse next door."

Source: Absolutely Pet Shop Boys

Caravaggio IMDb entry
Caravaggio Review (Newsweek)


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