A Film For December: Caravaggio

My last film for this year is Derek Jarman’s fictionalised account of Caravaggio’s life from a young man until his death in 1610. Told in a segmented fashion, it opens with Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) lying on his bed dying from lead poisoning, his faithful and long-standing companion Jerusaleme (Spencer Leigh) is with him as he looks back over his life.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was a violent man living in violent times. Running with a hot tempered bunch who’s motto was ‘without hope, without fear’ he was a drunk, gambling, brawling character who rose from a teenage street hustler to a convicted murderer. But at the same time his painting caught the eye of Cardinal Maria del Monte who nurtured his artistic and intellectual development, managed to keep him out of prison and kept him painting.

Using friends and people he met in the streets as models, his paintings shocked with their sense of realism; sacred figures were shown in modern dress and in modern settings always with the emphasis on poverty. This realism was heightened by his extreme technique of chiaroscuro, darkening the shadows to produce stark contrasts of light and dark. The Italian painter and biographer Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1613-1696) says of his:paintings:

He went so far in this style that he never showed any of his figures in open daylight, but instead found a way to place them in the darkness of a closed room, placing a lamp high so that the light would fall straight down, revealing the principal part of the body and leaving the rest in shadow.

These humanised portrayals of Christ brought him both fame and notoriety.

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Norwegian Wood

Now 37, Toru Watanabe arrives in Germany on business and as the plane touches down an orchestral version of the Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ plays from the speakers. As always he’s reminded of his beautiful, fragile friend Naoko and their time together in Tokyo 18 years earlier, when in the late 60’s he was a student, Norwegian Wood was her favourite song and they were both coming to terms with the death of their best friend, Kizuki.

This is an intimate book, a tight cast of characters surround Toru, as he negotiates the confusion of moving on with his life and the deep sorrow that he feels. Naoko is beautiful but emotionally fragile and spends much of the novel in a mountainside psychiatric hospital, where she becomes close friends with her room mate Reiko a talented musician. Nagasawa is a student friend who, despite having a long term girlfriend, has a habit of trailing bars for one night stands, a habit that starts to include Toru and then there’s Midori, Naoko’s complete opposite. She’s a free spirit, impetuous and alive to adventure and could be his future.

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A Film for March: Paris, Texas

Paris, TexasWinner of the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, this is a simple story about family ties, love and redemption directed by Wim Wenders and written by Sam Shepard.

Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) mysteriously wanders out of the desert and is found unconscious by a German Doctor who calls the only number in his pocket.  Having been missing for four years, his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) is amazed when he comes to collect him and drives him from Texas to his home in Los Angeles, which he shares with his French wife Anne (Aurore ClĂ©ment). On the road we find out that Travis’  eight year old son Hunter has been living with them after Jane, his mother (Nastassja Kinski) also disappeared. What has happened to Travis and where is Jane? Continue reading “A Film for March: Paris, Texas”