It isn't easy being “divine.” Pope Julius II’s praise certainly hasn’t made Michelangelo Buonarroti rich. Even more troubling, Michelangelo’s soul is even more tormented than ever, despite his loyal service to his patron and the Church. The legendary Renaissance artist will also have to navigate worldly politics in Andrei Konchalovsky’s Italian-language Russian-Italian co-production Sin, which opens virtually tomorrow.
Michelangelo just finished the Sistine Chapel, to Papal acclaim. Technically, he had to be pulled away kicking and screaming. Frankly, Julius II cut Michelangelo a lot of slack, which he appreciates, so naturally, he accepts the commission to sculpt the Pope’s grand projected tomb. However, those plans come into question when the Della Rovere Pope is succeeded by Leo X, of the rival de Medici clan.
Long associated with the Della Rovere family, Michelangelo now finds himself caught in the middle of a bitter power struggle. Unfortunately, both sides know how to push his buttons, by appealing to his artistic vanity. In fact, Konchalovsky’s Michelangelo is a bit of an Orson Welles figure. He is keenly aware of his own genius, yet the artist is hard pressed to actually finish his commissions.
Sin is an immersive film that vividly recreates the grandeur and the grubbiness of Renaissance Rome and Florence. It definitely feels like an attempt to revisit the glory of Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, which Konchalovsky co-wrote. However, it lacks the surreal bite of the 1966 masterpiece.
Unlike the brawny Charlton Heston in The Agony and the Ecstasy, Alberto Testone’s Michelangelo really looks like he spent several years flat on his back, inhaling paint fumes. He is not quite frail, but he is definitely weathered and a bit unsteady. Arguably, his performance does more to humanize Michelangelo in a physical way rather than in psychological or emotional terms.
Sin can be obsessively detail-oriented in its historical recreations. A great deal of time is devoted to Michelangelo’s efforts to secure the finest marble for Julius II’s tomb. As it happens, these scenes of the quarrying process are weirdly interesting.
Regardless, the big, sprawling canvases Konchalovsky and cinematographer Aleksandr Simonov create are worthy of the Renaissance milieu. Honestly, it blows the mind this film was directed by the filmmaker who also helmed Tango & Cash (which he was technically fired off of, for trying to make it more serious), but those are the extremes of Konchalovsky’s career. Respectfully recommended (but Konchalovsky’s Oscar Shortlisted Dear Comrades! is the masterwork you have to see), Sin opens in virtual theaters tomorrow (2/19).