The film is a fictionalized re-telling of the life of Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.
Jarman’s film is involved with the love triangle of Caravaggio (Nigel Terry), Lena (Tilda Swinton) and Ranuccio (Sean Bean) and dwells upon Caravaggio’s use of street people, drunks and prostitutes as models for his intense, usually religious paintings. As with Caravaggio’s use of contemporary dress for his Biblical figures, Jarman depicts his Caravaggio in a bar lit with electric lights or another character using an electronic calculator.
Caravaggio was the first time that Jarman worked with Tilda Swinton and was her first film role. The film also features Robbie Coltrane, Dexter Fletcher, Spencer Leigh, Michael Gough and Nigel Davenport. The cook Jennifer Paterson was an extra. The production designer was Christopher Hobbs who was also responsible for the copies of Caravaggio paintings seen in the film. The film was entered into the 36th Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Silver Bear for an outstanding single achievement.
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