Placido takes sides

The Death of the Virgin is the painting that owes its subversive character to Michelangelo, granting himself the right to transpose the body of Mary to that of a “whore” encountered during one of his nocturnal outings in brothels. banished from a dogmatic and medieval Italy. In Caravaggio, Michel Placido reconstructs the circumstances that led the painter to put to death a rival of his caste, who opposed his politico-aesthetic choices. Around his trial in 1609, the director invests a fictional character, the Shadow, played by Louis Garrel, with the aim of investigating for the Church the circumstances of the murder while seeking insidiously to know if Michelangelo’s creations can to be called a work of art, which it would seem, appeared in the eyes of the Pope as a cause for grace. When the investigation begins, Caravaggio has gone into exile with the help of the Colonna family, whose main protagonist is played by Isabelle Huppert. Two temporalities mingle by means of numerous flashbacks from the testimonies of relatives of the painter, collected by Garrel. Placido approaches Michelangelo (Riccardo Scamarcio) through the prism of an exacerbated charisma and virility, making him a man who impresses less by his brush than by his sex appeal and a tortured soul whose only tear dimension is justified. Sensitive and sensual, Caravaggio is right, from the start, he is an artist who strikes a pose and imposes himself like an anti-hero. Nevertheless, the director builds a suspense via the figure of the Shadow, a severe seducer in spite of himself. In short, the issue of Caravaggio comes down to this cockfight between two beasts who will only meet once to challenge each other, at the end of the film.

Caravagian telenovela

In the manner of Michelangelo by Andrey Konchalovsky (2019), Placido reproduces and enhances a humid, foggy and dusty climate through a decor thought out to the details, perfectly well established, so that the plans appear like paintings. It is both the era and the stylistic imprint of the painter that are translated into numerous canvas-sequences impeccably correlated to each other. Moreover, this microcosm is subsumed with great modesty on the part of Placido, who does not multiply the close-ups, so that the latter is always in the background, and that he only acts as an inking unshakeable and a guarantee of quality for the viewer. This great care is given to all the exterior and interior locations invested by the film, to which is added a cold and threatening light for the former, subdued but bright for the latter. The spaces are often crowded with objects piled up and cleared away, but the camera circumvents the asphyxiation at the bend of framings which always give them a meaning. Placido does not abuse the pictorial and rightly avoids crude caricature, since every article is efficient. However, this bow drawn to Italy on 17th century and its artist is constantly flouted by the actors’ games, which are too pompous, or conversely devitalised. Louis Garrel shines the first minutes of the film with his mysterious and condescending gaze, but it turns out that it is this arrogant and tiring pout that he will approach throughout the film, so much so that his wise posture quickly turns comical of repetition. The low-angle close-ups that outline his dark circles and dark eyebrows make him appear like a pedantic monster who no longer knows what his role is. Isabelle Huppert, well known for her plasticity, able to change her face with flexibility, is reduced to silence and the role of the middle-aged noblewoman to whom the fashionable painter did not want to make love. From Rodin’s Thinker to the perfume model of the 2000s, Scamarcio contorts differently with each close-up that highlights his shining eyes and his oily hair, trying in vain to capture those moments of painful introspection that made him known as the artist of moral self-flagellation par excellence. Placido passes by and strives to perform by staging a grotesque Peacock wheel. Michelangelo scours brothels and popular neighborhoods in order to transcribe in painting this human misery that he captures and mystifies. This is what sums up the political and aesthetic identity of Caravaggio. However, this value is supplanted by the presentation of the encounters he makes as ephemeral romances, Michelangelo is crossed by intense surges of pity and admiration for secondary characters to whom Placido grants no place. Sensational and pathetic episodes of love, heartbreak, convoluted verbal jousting and pastiches of cloaks and swords follow one another. These anecdotes follow one another according to a breathless cadence and sometimes dramatic sometimes suspended music, which leads to confusion: the director’s intention is between the applied biography worthy of an auteur cinema, and the blockbuster. The second option wins.

Caravaggio carnage

In this two-hour feature, Caravaggio is parodied. He sinks into the madness of someone who is not understood, abandoned by his supporters before he fled and banished by a state ruled by the Church. Nevertheless, it would seem that Michelangelo’s political convictions guided his life and his work, in a very singular way, and Placido does not deny the desire to show them in his film. First of all, Caravaggio is not an atheist, he is deeply religious, but faithful to a religion which exists by the people and which does not measure it from above. What he is driven by is schematized in the creation of Placido, so that Caravaggio appears as a man who struggles to repress his desires for lust, in favor of an autarkic and epicurean life. But it is not there that the turmoil of the painter is played out. Moreover, the director leaves no choice to the spectator to be able to hear this complexity inherent in the life of the artist. Too many adventures collide with each other, which has the effect of denying any discourse. The spectator is kept captive to this rhythm and asked to laugh or cry at the mercy of a soundtrack devoid of finesse, which deprives him of any permission to contemplate, appreciate, judge the figurations and gestures. He is transported from setbacks to fights, the violence of which also takes the path of clowning. This film is a consumer object in which the actors reflect, not to mention that Placido and his son have granted themselves a role. Caravaggio is a merry din, in which the hyperbole hides the inconsistency.

Caravaggio – Once upon a time in the cinema