Caravaggio’s Shadow (‘L’Ombra di Caravaggio’)

DRAMA; 1hr 59min (Italian with subtitles)

STARRING: Riccardo Scamarcio, Louis Garrel, Isabelle Huppert, Maurizio Donadoni

Art from the heart: Scamarcio

Accused of killing a man and potentially for the chop himself, artist Michelangelo Merisi (Scamarcio), aka Caravaggio, escapes Rome in 1609 for the sanctuary of Naples — or at least, as close to a sanctuary as a firebrand with an insatiable eye for wanton women, beddable boys and demon-inducing drink can reasonably hope to shoot for.


The hazy grandeur of director Michele Placido’s creatively licensed 1600s is a fiery sight as well, rife as it is with hot-headed debauchery. Prowling hungrily through the thick of it, Caravaggio paints the suffering of the streets with the compassionate perception of a master, their sex workers and swindlers transformed on canvas into timeless holy icons. Whether his genius will save the artist from the terminal wrath of the Catholic Church, however, is a question TBD.


Charged by Pope Paul V (Donadoni) with checking out the sacrilegious libertine, Garrel’s Vatican operative “Shadow” — who did not, in fact, exist, which is probably just as well — finds himself enmeshed in a tangle of carnality that couldn’t be further removed from his own frosty self. As Caravaggio’s patroness, protector and sometime lover Marquise Costanza Colonna, Huppert is all haughty lust. As for the man himself, lighting a fire under everything he touches can’t help but weigh heavy. How the notorious libertine actually met his end — in 1610 at age 38 — is still up for speculation. Placido and his co-writers send him off with a splash. It may not be the way his actual flame went out, but it feels like a fitting end to a paradox of extremes.