Movies: Nightwatching * *
In recent years something of a forgotten figure in his native land (his 2003 project The Tulse Luper Suitcases didn't even get a release in Britain), Peter Greenaway still merrily plies his trade in mainland Europe, where his erudite documentary series Nine Classical Paintings Revisited has been very warmly received. In the past, he has been accused of creating not vital cinema but dead tableaux based on his love of classical art, but at least with Nightwatching he has an excuse.
Inspired by one of his documentaries, the film takes Rembrandt van Rijn's great work The Night Watch as the starting point for an investigation of the role of the artist and his life. In particular, Greenaway advances the theory (and it is only a theory) that in mocking with his brush the powerful burghers who posed for him in that famous painting, Rembrandt was sowing the seeds of his own downfall.
In Nightwatching, the painter (played with some skill by Martin Freeman) finds out about a murder conspiracy among the group, which colours his merciless portrayal of them.
As we follow Rembrandt's progress, we see tragedy in his personal life. His subsequent amorous adventures would be fairly disastrous, and a more prosaic reason for Rembrandt penury in later life might be the fact that he appears to have been crap with money.
As usual, Greenaway rarely shoots exteriors and instead works with theatrical studio sets that allow him to control to the minutest shade his beloved painterly light. Often beautiful, these stiflingly perfect tableaux drown out the drama taking place within them.
And Nightwatching is one of the windiest films I've seen in a long time. It also has that stilted, stagey tone that most of his dramas do and, at two-and-a-quarter hours, is not for the faint of heart.