Artist for vi­o­lent times

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

There is a lot of be­head­ing in Car­avag­gio: The Soul and the Blood. That’s not the do­ing of Mex­i­can di­rec­tor Jesus Garces Lam­bert or Ital­ian scriptwriter Laura Al­lievi. No, it’s mainly down to the sub­ject of this Ital­ian doc­u­men­tary, Mi­lan-born artist Michelan­gelo Merisi (1571-1610), who called him­self af­ter the town his par­ents came from. The Bi­ble has a hand in it, too.

Of course the sword-tot­ing, tu­mul­tuous Car­avag­gio lived for a while un­der the threat of pos­si­ble be­head­ing af­ter he killed a man dur­ing an ar­gu­ment in Rome in 1606 and re­ceived a death sen­tence. He fled to Naples.

The cir­cum­stances of this life-chang­ing in­ci­dent re­main a mat­ter of de­bate. For a fas­ci­nat­ing take on it, and all of Car­avag­gio’s life and work, go to the re­mark­able 1998 book M by Aus­tralian writer Peter Robb.

Art his­to­ri­ans link Car­avag­gio’s po­ten­tial fate to his paint­ings, es­pe­cially the late David With the Head of Go­liath (1610), in which the big man’s sev­ered head looks like a self-por­trait. Me­dusa (1597), which shows only the gor­gon’s star­tled, de­tached head, is the work used in the posters for this movie.

Then there’s Judith Be­head­ing Holofernes (1599), a timely paint­ing dis­cussed in in­ter­est­ing depth, and The Be­head­ing of St John the Bap­tist (1609), which some con­sider his great­est paint­ing, as well as works de­pict­ing sac­ri­fi­cial sons, (M) flag­el­la­tion and cru­ci­fix­ion. And to think it all started, more or less, with Bas­ket of Fruit and The Lute Player, painted when he was 25.

One thing this film does well is to show a paint­ing in whole, then con­cen­trate on cer­tain as­pects of it. It en­cour­ages us to look at a work of art the way we should, by tak­ing our time, rather than snap­ping it with our phone cam­era and rush­ing on to the next one.

The fo­cus on the con­cen­trated brow of Judith, Jesus’s hand in The En­tomb­ment (1603) and Mary’s face in The Death of the Vir­gin (1601-06) are fine ex­am­ples. The last was con­tro­ver­sial at the time be­cause it de­picted an or­di­nary dead wo­man and did not show heaven.

The other il­lu­mi­nat­ing tech­nique used, though only briefly, is X-ray footage that shows how Car­avag­gio al­tered his paint­ings as he worked on them. I would have liked to have seen more of this.

This dis­cus­sion of Car­avag­gio’s paint­ings, steered by art his­to­ri­ans Clau­dio Stri­nati, Mina Gre­gori and Ros­sella Vo­dret, is the high­light of Holofernes; Life of the Party the doc­u­men­tary. The cra­dle-to-grave ac­count of the artist’s life is less so. It doesn’t add much to our un­der­stand­ing of his mys­te­ri­ous life, of which he left no writ­ten record. Biog­ra­phers have re­lied heav­ily on court doc­u­ments, as he was in trou­ble quite a bit.

Much of the script is unartis­tic. “His art is se­duc­tion. It acts like a mag­net.” There’s too much use of phrases such as “It could be that he …” and “This may al­lude to …”.

There’s a liv­ing mod­ern model for the artist, a hand­some man who goes through var­i­ous tri­als, and mo­ments of grace, as the nar­ra­tion tells us what was happening to Car­avag­gio. He is not an ac­tor but a mem­ber of the film crew, cho­sen largely for his anonymity.

He doesn’t speak but Car­avag­gio’s voice does come in, cour­tesy of Ital­ian mu­sic star Manuel Agnelli. The words, though, are con­structed by the scriptwriter. The line that rings true, in the con­text of this doc­u­men­tary, is: “I let my works do the talk­ing for me.”

Some of the peo­ple be­hind this film made the re­cent Raphael: The Lord of the Arts. Both films were brought to Aus­tralian screens by Syd­ney­based Sharmill Films, which also dis­trib­uted the de­light­ful art com­edy-drama The Square.

When the Avengers rule the roost, it’s good that there can still be a place in cin­e­mas for films about art. I like the Avengers movies but it’s re­as­sur­ing to know there’s still a life for dif­fer­ent films for dif­fer­ent au­di­ences. Life of the Party is the third movie from Amer­i­can wife-and-hus­band team Melissa McCarthy and Ben Fal­cone, fol­low­ing Tammy (2014) and The Boss (2016). They co-wrote the script, she’s the star, he’s the di­rec­tor. He also has a hu­mor­ous cameo as an Uber driver.

This is an en­joy­able soror­ity house com­edy that also has mo­ments of ten­der­ness. At such times it shows how wis­dom can be passed be­tween gen­er­a­tions, from older to younger and vice-versa.

The gen­er­a­tional gap is bridged when Deanna (McCarthy), dumped by her hus­band Dan (Matt Walsh), de­cides to re­turn to col­lege to fin­ish the arche­ol­ogy de­gree she aban­doned two decades ago when she be­came preg­nant. The re­sult of that preg­nancy, Mad­die (Molly Gor­don), is also at the col­lege, in her fi­nal year.

What fol­lows clev­erly jumps be­tween Deanna be­ing an em­bar­rass­ment to her daugh­ter and Dee-Rock, as she be­comes, be­ing liked by the other stu­dents, es­pe­cially hand­some Jack (Luke Ben­ward). But it’s not a straight line from full-time mum to col­lege mav­er­ick. There are ups and downs, steps for­ward and back­ward.

McCarthy is fun to watch, as usual. There are some laugh-out-loud set pieces, such as a 1970s disco party. My favourite is when Deanna and her best friend and Dan and his new girl­friend meet a di­vorce me­di­a­tor. The rule of the room is that ev­ery­one must ad­dress the moderator, not each other. So she’s called a son of a bitch a lot.

Aus­tralia’s Jacki Weaver has a sup­port­ing role as Deanna’s mum (and Stephen Root is her dad). It’s worth see­ing just for their loud dis­cus­sion, when Deanna comes to their house to tell them her life has fallen apart, about the qual­i­ties of a ham sand­wich. A gun is pro­duced.

Car­avag­gio’s Judith Be­head­ing Melissa McCarthy with Molly Gor­don, top left, and Jacki Weaver in

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