An 'essayistic' documentary in which Greenaway's fierce criticism of today's visual illiteracy is argued by means of a forensic search of Rembrandt's Nightwatch. Greenaway explains the ... See full summary »
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Raymond J. Barry,
The year 1642 marks the turning point in the life of the famous Dutch painter, Rembrandt, turning him from a wealthy respected celebrity into a discredited pauper. At the insistence of his pregnant wife Saskia, Rembrandt has reluctantly agreed to paint the Amsterdam Musketeer Militia in a group portrait that will later become to be known as The Nightwatch. He soon discovers that there is a conspiracy afoot with the Amsterdam merchants playing at soldiers maneuvering for financial advantage and personal power in, that time, the richest city in the Western World. Rembrandt stumbles on a foul murder. Confident in the birth of a longed-for son and heir, Rembrandt is determined to expose the conspiring murderers and builds his accusation meticulously in the form of the commissioned painting, uncovering the seamy and hypocritical side to Dutch Society in the Golden Age. Rembrandt's great good fortune turns. Saskia dies. Rembrandt reveals the accusation of murder in the painting and the ... Written by
This film, which I saw yesterday at a single, sparsely attended 4:00 p.m. show, part of an AFI European film festival, may thrill Greenaway fans, but a broad cross-section of movie lovers will probably find it mannered and dull. Shot Rembrandt-style, it apparently aspires to be an homage to art, to the 17th century artist, and to his early-modern eye for humanity -- the cinematographer keeps coming back to, and lingering over, eye shots -- combined with a detective story, a psychodrama, a domestic drama, a costume drama, a self-conscious allusion to the director's earlier dramas, and a brawling, lusty slice of Low Country life in the era when kings waged war with parliaments, city walls were just starting to come down, and commerce was beginning to muscle aside the gun as the engine of empires.
The film badly needs editing. Everything that happens when a camera is turned on is not necessarily art or even interesting. The 144 minutes I saw would have benefited had they been shrunk by nearly an hour. First kill all of the improvised scenes. Then kill all of the gratuitous sex scenes and needless expletives. Then kill all of the scenes in which an actor talks directly to the audience. Then kill all of the precious, mannered references to other Greenaway films -- statues played by semi-nude actors, sides of beef hung out to dry, etc. etc. Tighten up the detective story. Lighten up the art analysis. Minimize the posing scenes. Voila. You'd be at 90 minutes without any problem.
Not for the uncommitted or the faint of heart.
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