Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Andrey Konchalovskiy aims to give his viewers the fullest sensory experience he can." | Photo: Courtesy of PÖFF

"Don't touch it!" Michelangelo snaps at someone reaching out towards one of his sculptures. Wanting to touch is, of course, a natural reaction to the tactile nature of the art - and Andrey Konchalovskiy aims to give his viewers the fullest sensory experience he can with this well-mounted biopic of Sistine Chapel artist Michelangelo Buonarroti.

We all know that Michelangelo was a fine painter and sculptor but Konchalovskiy shows us that, by the time he had finished the Chapel, he was also a smelly, heavy drinking man on the edge - railing at both rivals and ravens - who found himself caught up in power machinations between the Della Rovere family of the outgoing pope and Medicis. All the while, he is desperately hoping that his art will lead to redemption in the next life, while socking away cash in this one.

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Often films about painters are focused on the craft of the art - or the art of the craft. But here it is the physicality of the period that really comes to the fore, represented in its most solid form by the blocks of marble being hewn from a treacherous hillside to be shaped into statues for Pope Julius II's tomb.

Michelangelo is so obsessed with the work that he plays a dangerous game with the families - agreeing to the tomb job at the same time as promising the second family the facade of San Lorenzo Basilica - while his obsession also comes with risks for those trying to extract the stone he needs. An enormous block of marble sits at the centre of the film like a glowing white folly, a physical iteration of Michelangelo's overweening ambitions that put me in mind of William Golding's The Spire.

Scenes in which workers are seen hanging off a cliff face or crawling about beneath the enormous block as they try to bring it to the nearby town are as tense as any in a thriller. There's something delightfully old school about Konchalovskiy's use of extras as well. Each moment throbs with life, even when those in the background aren't part of the storyline - such as a drinking session in a bar which sees Michelangelo vie with a rival while a fight breaks out, almost unnoticed, behind them.

These sort of details, along with an entire farmyard of animals - from chickens to kittens -  make the period detailing feel rich, while cinematographer Aleksander Simonov shows a painterly eye for colour and composition. Konchalovskiy - writing with Elena Kiseleva - even allows a brush of the spiritual, as we see Michelangelo's fantasies of Dantean angels and demons encroach on his waking hours. At the heart of the film is Alberto Testoni, who brings Michelangelo to simmering, volatile life, balancing his impetuousness with flashes of a soft heart. As the artist himself puts it: "I'm unable to control myself. I have no sense of balance." The control instead belongs completely to Testoni and Konchalovskiy who between them sculpt the contours of Michelangelo's life in such a way that you feel you could almost reach out and touch them.

Reviewed on: 28 Nov 2019
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Portrait of Michelangelo, who finds his loyalty between clients tested.


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