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This film should really be a 4 star triumph. Almost the entire film is
constituted of still-framed shots on location, optimising and
occasionally irrespective of the weather conditions. The acting is
brilliant; stylised, sure, but always engaging and intriguing. The
script is an object lesson in exposition and narrative through
convincing dialogue. Crucially the whole thing is endlessly amusing,
witty, startling, suggestive and naughty.
There's a problem. Mindful of its aesthetic, it's static and relies on the highly wrought script too much. The vernacular (another seamlessly incorporated feature of the writing) intensifies its density... consequently I found it difficult to follow in the detail it probably deserved. Not as tense, nor as sexy a piece as The Cook etc. but funnier. 6/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the late 17th century a pompous and avaricious draughtsman, Mr
Neville (Higgins), is hired by Mrs Herbet (Suzman) to sketch her
husband's opulent manor (situated in Groombridge Place, in Kent) from
differing viewpoints. In return, he demands an extravagant fee, use of
their lodgings - and Mrs Herbert's sexual favours ("the maturing
delights of her country garden").
After getting entangled with Mrs Herbet's daughter, Mrs Talmann (a chilly Lambert), the exploiter becomes the exploited. Neville belatedly realises his employer's dark ulterior motive: to further the Herbert bloodline, and take the rap for the murder of Mr Herbet, the clues to which have apparently been revealed through his seemingly innocuous sketches. "Brilliant and archly humoured", said the Guardian; "a load of posturing poo-poo" according to fellow director Alan Parker. Which is it to be? Like much of Antonioni's canon, Greenaway's sour little truffles aren't exactly the warmest, most emotive of items, substituting cerebral and technical flair over the ability to make an audience laugh, cry, and generally punch the air and whoop for joy. Accordingly, most criticism of Greenaway's first feature (a transparent reworking of the aforementioned director's Blow Up in theme and execution) focused on The Draughtman's Contract's determinedly detached and studiously mannered quality - though rightly acknowledging the sumptuous photography, Michael Nyman's pounding score, borrowed from Purcell, and the wonderfully arch and playful script (triple-layered and authentically earthy by turn).
Greenaway apologists will recognise the director's favoured themes of sex, death, female power play, and moral and physical decay (the latter most noticeable in the saturated cinematography, indicating all is far from stable in this Jacobean paradise). Newcomers may either be irritated beyond belief, or intrigued by what is essentially a philosophical meditation on fertility rites, the transient nature of perception, and class exploitation. Either way, it's an unforgettable experience.
A bizarre, quite unique period film, it is full of odd occurrences and it is technically quite well made, however the product is less than satisfying overall. Some of the dialogue is just rambling, and towards the end I really felt that this bogged down the production, despite some funny lines in the mix. The characters come off as rather cold, and some sequences in the film are not really explained properly. But is this confused and unwelcoming atmosphere what Greenaway intended? It might well be, even if knowing that does not help fix the uneasiness that one might feel when watching it. But enough of the 'bad', for the film has some great aspects too. Michael Nyman composes some wonderful music to fit alongside the action, the sets and costumes are flashy and eye-catching, and Greenaway particularly pays attention to giving the material a unique feel with the lighting design. It is an unusual film, and that makes it fascinating. Not the best out there, and from its director I prefer 'A Zed and Two Noughts', however this one is still worth a look.
A Peter Greenaway film that works on so many levels and for me at
least, shows a developmental of Greenaway's work as there are scenes in
it which remind me of his early works.
We start with "H is for House", & then when we see the draughtsman's sketches up close some of them could be maps for "A Walk Through H" some of the scenes are almost static & remind me of "Vertical Features Remake". Throughout the film the conversation is more like a narrative at times, like a number of his early works.
I love the narrative of "Water Wrackets".
Then there is the score which moves the film to an even higher level.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is like a chestbox full of fantastical treasures, most of them
pertaining to image and meaning. An amazingly rich film upon which to
ponder cinematically on the hidden realities of the frame.
We have the sketch artist at the centre of this, the man commissioned to represent reality. By this whim, he has the ability to empty the landscape of people or place them within it as he sees fit, which is to say the world he sketches is a replica born in the mind. What starts by this process as representation inadvertently becomes creation.
But there is more to it. Within his image and unbeknownst to him, find their way various shadowy allegories which may be simple pictorial conceits or keys to a sinister plot involving murder and worse. By having sketched these anomalies of perception, the things that shouldn't be where they are, he becomes complicit in their implied meaning.
The most fascinating thing about all of this, is that the film is perfectly aware of everything that transpires in it. It knows and points out that it does as meant to entangle itself in the folds of this so that it can be disentagled again.
Tantalizing double entendres (some of the best in film) among politely aggressive dinner companies, an animate statue who unsuccessfully tries to mingle with the routine, sexual inappropriateness as contractual obligation, all these humorous or deviant stratagems mirror the effects of duplicitous meanings.
Each of these elements merits a film of its own, Greenaway however weaves them together in a ribald pastiche. Of the pastiche itself I'm not too sure, whether the whole adds or subtracts upon the individual meanings, but it's an enjoyable one.
All you need to make cinema in my opinion is not story or characters but a point of view (and of course the view to which it points). Two forms of consciousness, one which is the cinematic representation and the other the navigation within it. This one has several, each working upon the others to make them equally possible or equally moot.
By the end of this, Greenaway rather fatalistically shows us the destruction of both creator and creation. At the hands of a spoiled plutocracy no less.
When first I saw this film, I felt that I had missed a detail by the end
the story. I rented it again a few years later and had the same feeling.
chance I met the costume designer a while back. She informed me that
Greenaway edited out a pivotal scene towards the end of the movie, which
filled in the gap in the plot.
Aside from this egregious edit, this is a lush and sumptuous film, one of Greenaway's best. A puzzle with a few pieces missing, but quite a lovely picture when (almost) completed.
Welsh-born British screenwriter, painter and director Peter Greenaway's
second feature film which he wrote, is a British production which was
shot on various locations at the Groombridge Place in Kent, England and
produced by David Payne. It tells the story about Mr. Neville, a
contemptuous young artist who comes to a mansion in the English
countryside owned by Mr. Herbert who lives there with his wife Mrs.
Virginia Herbert, her daughter Mr. Talmann and the daughter's husband
Mr. Talmann. Mr. Neville has been hired by Mrs. Herbert to produce a
series of twelve landscape drawings for her estranged husband, but in
one part of their contract Mr. Neville has made a demand that Mrs.
Herbert meets him in private whenever he wants to and fulfils his
requests. Mr. Neville is granted his wishes by Mrs. Herbert after
having started on the drawings, but as time goes by he gains a bad
reputation amongst the residents and becomes such a burden to Mrs.
Herbert that she decides to put an end to the contract. When Mr.
Neville makes it clear that he is not willing to annul the agreement,
Mrs. Herbert's daughter tries to blackmail him into signing a new
contract where he is the one that has to abide her requests.
Acutely and precisely directed by experimental filmmaker Peter Greenaway, this surreal and unconventional period piece which is set in England in 1694 during the coregency of the Kingdoms of Ireland, England and Scotland, draws a variegated portrayal of an unorthodox contract that gradually instigates a deceitful game driven by power, sex, and gender issues. While notable for it's colorful milieu depictions, fine art direction by English costume designer Bob Ringwood, cinematography by American cinematographer Curtis Clark and costume design by English costume designer Sue Blane, this dialog-driven and plot-driven fictional tale contains a remarkable score by the director's frequent collaborator, British pianist and composer Michael Nyman which emphasizes it's mystifying atmosphere.
This rhythmic, sarcastically humorous, erotic, somewhat overstated and inventive 17th century social-satire is impelled and reinforced by it's quick-witted dialog, cogent narrative structure and the splendid acting performances by English actor Anthony Higgins, South African-born British actress and director Janet Suzman and Australian actress Anne Louise Lambert. A detailed, picturesque and intriguing mystery which gained a nomination for the International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film at the 4th Fantasport International Film Festival in 1984.
Peter Greenaway's films have characteristic features: beautiful aesthetics, Michael Nyman scores, grotesquely humorous plots. His first film shows his gifts came fully formed: 'The Draughstman's Contract' is a bizarre costume drama that displays all of his talent, while, at the same time, being arguably about nothing. Greenaway's films really are pure cinema: his interest in what he can do with the form exceeds any external message, and there's no attempt to hide the the sense of artistic experiment. They're an acquired taste, but in an age of identikit blockbusters, his strange combination of imagery, originality and plain silliness weaves a magic all of its own.
A very funny film with lots of great dialog. Some good examples of the dialog are listed in the quotable lines section of IMDb. Greenaway makes very intricate films. You can re-watch them and keep learning more each time. This one does not use the grotesque imagery which he used in films like THE COOK and ZOO. But it is still lushly composed visually, if more subtly. A word that comes to mind with Greenaway films is saturation - not of color, but of ideas. His background is in the arts and his films tend to be more like paintings layered with many ideas rather than the more literal representational photographic style used in most mainstream/classical/Hollywood film-making. Greenaway has a kindred spirit in Joel-Peter Witkin who also soaks each of his still frames in multiple outside references.
Guess I really like this sort of period movies, about the British
upper-class in the 17th century. The movies have an own unique kind of
style and atmosphere over them. This especially really goes for this
unique little film.
it's a very witty movie and halve way through it also becomes obvious exactly how intelligently the movie is written and constructed. At first it doesn't look like the movie is heading anywhere and it's merely a good and enjoyable movie filled with some slightly subtle eccentric and quirky characters. But about halve way through it becomes clear that the intentions within the story and the intentions of the characters have way more in to them, when the movie becomes more of a murder-mystery and layered and the character's motivations all start to take form and become clear. It makes the movie surprisingly and delightful. It's a really well constructed and visually crafted movie from Peter Greenaway.
The movie doesn't have the Jane Austen kind of story and approach but more like "Barry Lyndon" with the same certain quirkiness in it, if I need to compare it to anything else. The movie has a sort of a surreal kind of atmosphere over it, which gets strengthened all the more by the outrageous costumes and wigs, thick accents and extremely difficult but beautiful to listen to- dialog and of course the special kind of characters that are in the movie. It's also a very sexy and sort of erotic movie to watch at, with almost always a sort of sexual tension in the atmosphere during the entire movie, despite not having any real nudity or explicit nude scene's in it.
The whole movie is almost entire filmed in a stage-play kind of approach, with no moving camera's and long sequences filled with dialog. Really the sort of stuff you normally experience during a stage-play. It all adds up to the reasons why this movie is a quite unique and delightful little movie to watch.
This movie is a great watch, as long as you're capable of handling the long and difficult dialog and the more stage-play kind of storytelling.
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