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The Draughtsman's Contract
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The Draughtsman's Contract More at IMDbPro »

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unique art-house oddity

10/10
Author: framptonhollis from United States
9 March 2017

Peter Greenaway's classic comic murder mystery is a parade of fanciful language, English accents, long, white wigs, and beautiful countryside. It is a period piece that, at times, oddly and indescribably recalls fantasy and science fiction. It is a heavily stylized and artistic film that is surreal, witty, and dark all at once. The surrealism present is always subtle and hard to describe, which makes the atmosphere feel even stranger. It is almost uncomfortably unique and bizarre, which makes it all the more impossible to look away from.

While this film is highly artistic and, at times, feels almost like a step into an 18th century painting, it balances style with substance gloriously. The story and characters are engaging, and their conversations are often witty. It is a film that requires attention and intelligent from the viewer, you must grasp what each character is saying to follow the hidden jokes, as well as the obvious ones.

Michael Nyman's score is one of the finest in motion picture history. My jaw practically dropped the second the film began. How can music sound this damn good? It compliments the film's stylistic characteristics with elegance and grace as well as a sly wickedness that feels almost darkly humorous.

For fans of stylized, art-house cinema, there are few films that capture this mood nearly as well as "The Draughtsman's Contract". It cares about great story and characters as much as it does great atmosphere and music.

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Greenaway's inimitable work remains as aloof, indecipherable and tongue-in-cheek as it aims to be

7/10
Author: lasttimeisaw from China
4 December 2016

UK maverick filmmaker Peter Greenaway's Venice main competition entry in 1982, arguably his feature debut, a period picture steeped in highbrow phraseology, sumptuous baroque costumes and elusive intrigues.

In 1694, rural Wiltshire, Mr. Neville (Higgins), an eloquent, stuck-up draughtsman strikes a contact with Mrs. Virginia Herbert (Suzman), to complete 12 landscape drawings of her estate during the absence of her husband Mr. Herbert (Hill), with a proviso that Mrs. Herbert must meet him in private and consent to actions gratifying his pleasure, which Mrs. Herbert condones. Later, Sarah Talmann (Lambert), Mr. Herbert's sole daughter approaches to Mr. Neville with a new proposal, but this time, she should be the recipient of their carnal knowledge, moreover, maybe there is also a hidden agenda behind it, as we apprehend that Sarah is married to Mr. Talmann (Fraser), yet they have no heir to inherit the Herberts' fortune. A sinister turning point hits when Mr. Herbert's body is found in the moat around the estate, soon the presumption that clues of the said murder can be unobtrusively garnered from Mr. Neville's 12 drawings, unfortunately puts the latter in a perilous situation. In the final deciding crunch, Mr. Neville seems to be designated as the fall guy by a clique lead by the jealous Mr. Talmann, but nothing substantial of the conspiracy theory comes to full disclosure at last. The only unbidden witness of the appalling denouement is the camouflage man, a full-frontal figure at times inexplicably skulks out on the roof when the residents are dining al fresco, hides invisibly among the creepers, or straddles the bronze horse as a medieval knight, and finally gobbles up the pineapple.

Greenaway contrives at great length to frame the 12 drawings with his principally stationary camera angle and a vaguely anachronistic apparatus, an expedient stems from his artist upbringing and magnificently instils each and every scene with painting-like allure and precision, which balances out the elocutionary hyperbole in a positive way.

A core cast marshaled by Higgins, who triumphantly struts his haughtiness in an unstinting mode, precisely up to his last breath, whereas Janet Suzman puts on an imperial air spiked with a tense impression of self-inflicted dejection, she might be as clueless as the scapegoat, but is certainly swell in her cogent diction about pomegranate and deities. Anne-Louise Lambert, the ethereal Australian beauty from Peter Weir's PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975), is quite unrecognizable (much as everybody else) under the elaborate garments, but pulls off a brilliant equivocation in contrast to Hugh Fraser's competently rebarbative impersonation of upper-crust impotence.

Predominantly, composer Michael Nyman's Purcell-inflected accompanying score hones perfectly the Baroque decadence and essentially Greenaway's inimitable work remains as aloof, indecipherable and tongue-in-cheek as it aims to be.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

"Picturesque and intriguing mystery..."

8/10
Author: Sindre Kaspersen from Norway
27 April 2012

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.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Mischief of obscure meanings

Author: chaos-rampant from Greece
28 May 2011

*** 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.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

A Short Review

8/10
Author: Robcamstone from United Kingdom
13 November 2013

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.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Frustrating yet delightful

Author: paul2001sw-1 (paul2001sw@yahoo.co.uk) from Saffron Walden, UK
24 September 2011

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.

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2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Lush and lovely, but ultimately a cheat

Author: willie-14 from Houston
10 June 1999

When first I saw this film, I felt that I had missed a detail by the end of the story. I rented it again a few years later and had the same feeling. By 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.

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3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Rich and rewarding

8/10
Author: Jeff Orgill from United States
12 January 2007

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.

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6 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Michael Nyman's Music

8/10
Author: dzap76 from California
19 April 2004

Before I start rambling on about Nyman's music, let me just say that I really enjoyed this movie. The cinematography is excellent, and the pacing of the dialogue is wonderful. Greenaway seems to shoot his scenes around Nyman's music...which of course can't be true (can it?) as the music is usually the last thing to be added to a film. The movie is a bit odd at times, but I always find it enjoyable to watch. These comments below [which I posted on the message board for this film] are from a paper I wrote on Nyman's music.

The music for this film is performed by an early version of The Michael Nyman Band, the instrumentation of which features all of the saxophones, clarinet, and bass clarinet, played by four different musicians, two violins, a bass trombone/euphonium, a bass guitar and a double bass, and Nyman on harpsichord and piano. At this point in his compositional career, the influence of pop music on Nyman's music can be felt in his use of repetitive and simple melodies and chord progressions, persistent beats, and loud dynamics. He varies melodic fragments over his bass lines through the use of `extension, syncopation, suspension, and superimposition.' These bass lines are prominently featured through the use of, together or in different combinations, bass trombone/euphonium, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, cello, piano, and bass guitar. In between the two extreme octave doublings is usually some kind of motoric rhythm or sustained sounds. The harmonic stability created by recognizable chords and chord progressions, outlined by a prominent bass line underneath driving, repetitive melodic units played by familiar, though fresh-sounding, instrumentation, suggests `an energy and exuberance more associated with pop and rock music.' His style of employing minimalist techniques of `layering, stratifying, reordering, and superimposing.to transform his material' seems to be well suited for film and popular styles of music making.

For this film, he creates six short pieces based on different ground basses or chaconnes, borrowed from the English Baroque composer Henry Purcell, that correspond to the first six of the twelve architectural drawings made by the draughtsman, who imposes `temporal and organizational restraints' on his employers. The melodic fragments over these bass lines, which are manipulated in the manner described in the previous paragraph, are played in a loud dynamic during the foreground for each scene, and the music is continued as underscore under the dialogue, which adds a heightened sense of emotion, whether dramatic or comedic, to each scene. From piece to piece, the tempo, intensity of rhythm and articulation, tonality, texture, meter, and instrumentation are constantly being changed, which creates a sense of restlessness and forward momentum. These short pieces are brought back as a way to identify the location of each scene and the context of the desired mood. Nyman simply uses variations of the first piece as a montage to accompany the next six drawings. He creates, through superimposing various fragments and bass lines, a new melody for the second half of the film that heightens the dramatic mood as the intrigue in the conspiracy develops and the climax of the film is reached. The Draughtsman's Contract represents a youthful exuberance to try out new ideas that explores the new elements of minimalist style within the static harmonic framework of Baroque ground basses. The instrumentation of the Michael Nyman Band is striking in the combination of this `Baroque minimalist' style of music with modern instruments such as the saxophone and bass guitar.

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0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

loved the authenticity

Author: ayn5242 from pennsylvania
25 May 2003

The movie is lush and sophisticated and does a good job of capturing the sophistication and bawdiness of the times. Social mores have changed since the onset of indoor plumbing but class exploitation certainly hasn't. Wonderfully done.

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