Believe the tale and not the teller., 10 July 2009
Author: The_Black_Rider from New Jersey
If Peter Greenaway presented his conspiracy theory to Rembrandt, the painter would probably laugh in the filmmaker’s face. Luckily art is subjective, and as long as you can make a decent enough case for an interpretation, it is legitimate. But Greenaway’s new film isn’t really about the conspiracy anyway; it’s about the image.
Greenaway famously believes cinema is an impoverished art form because it relies more on the text than on the image. “Just because you have eyes doesn’t mean you can see,” he says. He has been exploring this concept since the days of The Draughtsman’s Contract in which an artist naively uncovered an incitement to murder in his sketches. Here, Greenaway goes through every detail in Rembrandt’s painting and analyzes it. Why is Banning Cocq holding out his naked left hand? Where is the group portrait meant to take place? Who is hiding at the back? Didn’t we see all this in Nightwatching? Sort of. After a long stretch of commercial and artistic failures, Greenaway was clearly trying to reach out to the art-house crowds once again by mixing his exercise in art theory with the melodrama of Rembrandt’s love life. The problem is that Nightwatching is more of the latter than the former, and if there’s one thing Greenaway doesn’t do, it’s emotion. Rembrandt’s J’Accuse is indeed a rehash of the concepts of Nightwatching but the contrived story stripped away.
Instead, we get Greenaway doing what he does best: Lists, painterly images, minimalist music, and his desire to reorganize the constructs of the world based on his own interests and desires. Clearly this is the Rembrandt film he really wanted to make since he’s doing it on his own terms, though fortunately in less obscure fashion than his Tulse Luper Suitcases trilogy. If anything, it’s a return to his mockumentaries in the 1970s, though now with the budget and technology he never had in those days.
It’s unlikely that Rembrandt’s J’Accuse will draw in any new Greenaway fans, but for those interested in film and art theory and for those of us praying for a return to form after a long and painful creative slump, this is a pleasant surprise. It’s his most accomplished work since The Baby of Macon, and while we’re still a long way away from the halcyon days of Drowning by Numbers, it’s nice to see that one of cinema’s most unique artists still has some magic left in him.