Michelangelo Buonarroti is one of the worlds great artistic geniuses. Admired in his own time and now, his skill for sculpture, in particular, is second to none. Juxtaposed to his skill is how he lived his life, eschewing food and personal hygiene people favour of his work.
Given the stature of the man and the interesting twists his story had, it’s actually surprising that there aren’t more films about him. This new film Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky offers a new perspective of a man we’re all familiar with, but few know much of anything about beyond his artistic genius.
The story starts around the time that Michelangelo is finishing work on the Sistine Chapel and ends up caught between two rival families vying for his work. Having to lie and cheat to accept commissions from each without the other finding out, Alberto Testone plays Michelangelo with an intensity and passion that boils but never quite boils over, even as Michelangelo becomes more paranoid and delusional.
In the midst of the political drama, Michelangelo is also squaring off with artistic rivals, most of whom are jealous of him for his talent or dislike him for his sour, prideful attitude, or both. He also has an enormous block of marble to move, one he’s convinced will be another masterpiece but is stuck on a mountainside. Testone weaves his way through the story swinging from quiet and contemplative to completely manic, but never unbelievable.
Another highlight is that, as with many European productions, the sense of place and time is completely captured. Both the countryside and the cities are gorgeous, but you can practically smell the squalor of the cities (and of Michelangelo himself, who doesn’t exactly take care of himself when he’s wrapped up in work). In addition to the authenticity of the depiction of the 16th century, this also contrasts with the art that Michelangelo creates; in a world so dirty the beauty of the art really shines through.