Michelangelo: Love And Death


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Michaelangelo: Love and Death
"Watching it, one feels as if one has only just missed out on the chance to meet the great man."

He's celebrated as the creator of the Sistine Chapel frescos, and probably the greatest sculptor ever to have worked in marble, but how much do you really know about Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni? A fascinating collaboration between observers centuries apart, this documentary attempts to find the man behind the work, and to explore his methods and some of his lesser-known achievements.

Famous in his own time (and described here as "the world's first famous artist"), Michelangelo was the subject of several contemporary biographies, and much of the voiceover here comes directly from the work of Asciono Condivi. Written in a style that translates beautifully to film, it gives the historical events herein depicted an immediacy appropriate to the spirit of the Renaissance. The extensive supply of sources from the period, in combination with observations that can be made from a wealth of surviving works, means that the film is as rich as anything that might be made about an artist working today. Watching it, one feels as if one has only just missed out on the chance to meet the great man.

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Due attention is paid here to the works with which viewers will be most familiar, but for all that it draws out the detail that makes them so remarkable, the film doesn't linger on them unduly; they are featured in balance with other works, some of which even keen art lovers will be unfamiliar with, in roughly chronological order. Not only sculpture and painting are included, but also the drawings that preceded them, the poetry that Michelangelo himself was humble about, and his contributions to architecture, most notably fortifications. There's lots of fascinating material here, with attention paid to the craft as well as the art, illustrated with footage of craftsmen at work today. Director David Bickerstaff is as interested in technical matters as in the artist's imagination, and the film is richer for it.

Alongside this, the film looks at Michelangelo's interest in anatomy, comparing the level of knowledge visible in his work with the primitive understanding exhibited by medical textbooks of the period. There's speculation about his access to dead bodies, though not much context is provided about the religious concerns that made this difficult, of which viewers may be unaware. It's an odd omission in a film that is otherwise very accessible regardless of one's level of education, balancing this well with a depth and diversity of information that will see most viewers learn something new.

If the primary factor attracting you to Michelangelo's work is its beauty, you won't be disappointed there either. Careful cinematography brings out every nuance in his sculptures even where they are positioned in otherwise badly lit environments. Bickerstaff's camera travels slowly around each one, dwelling on pertinent details and taking in what is unfinished. The scenes in the sistine chapel are definitel best seen on a big screen, as there's a lot to take in in each image, but otherwise the film is well suited to home viewing, enabling viewers to pause or rewid when they want to observe something more closely. Should you never have the opportunity to see these works in person, this film is the next best thing.

Reviewed on: 06 Sep 2017
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A documentary about the work and life of the famous artist.

Director: David Bickerstaff

Starring: Peter Abrahams, Cristine Acidini, Sergej Androsov, Victoria Avery

Year: 2017

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: UK


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