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Nightwatching
Nightwatching
Actors: Martin Freeman, Emily Holmes, Eva Birthistle, Jodhi May, Toby Jones
Director: Peter Greenaway
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
UR     2009     2hr 14min

Peter Greenaway?s extravagant and exotic look at the mystery behind Rembrandt?s most famous work of art? While painting a group portrait of the Amsterdam Musketeer Militia, the renowned Dutch artist Rembrandt (Martin Freem...  more »

     
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Movie Details

Actors: Martin Freeman, Emily Holmes, Eva Birthistle, Jodhi May, Toby Jones
Director: Peter Greenaway
Creators: Peter Greenaway, Benedicte Hermesse, Bénédicte Humbel, Carlo Dusi, Christine Haebler, Eliane Huss, Grzegorz Hajdarowicz
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: E1 Entertainment
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 09/15/2009
Original Release Date: 01/01/2007
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2007
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 2hr 14min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 11
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English
Subtitles: English
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Movie Reviews

Miles and miles of painted darkness
E. A Solinas | MD USA | 07/05/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"One of the most famous paintings by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is "The Night Watch," a dark-hued painting filled with richly, colourfully dressed soldiers.

Well, no matter how brilliant they are, most paintings don't end up inspiring movies -- but Peter Greenaway does a pretty brilliant job with "Nightwatching," a semi-fictionalized version of how Rembrandt came to paint it. The "hidden coded message" subplot is a bit awkward, but Greenaway's brilliance shines in how exquisite the movie is -- he wraps the movie in lush, light-soaked beauty, and Rembrandt becomes a very real person.

When his smart, independent wife Saskia (Eva Birthistle) gets pregnant, Rembrandt (Martin Freeman) is called upon to paint an Amsterdam Civil Guard -- he doesn't want to, but reluctantly agrees under the condition that he gets nine months ("(It takes that long to make a baby; it will certainly take that long to make a painting") and chooses the setup. Meanwhile, Saskia gives birth to a healthy baby but becomes ill herself (which frustrates her lusty husband).

In fact, Saskia becomes more sickly as the painting goes on -- and when she dies, Rembrandt's closeness to Titus' nursemaid Geertje (Jodhi May) and maidservant Hendrickje (Emily Holmes) becomes quite different. And his straightforward commission is complicated by the sudden death of a young officer, which reveals a seedy clot of sex, blackmail and corruption. He can't reveal these things in the open, but he can weave them into "The Night Watch."

Rich draperies, misty forests, torch-waving brigades in a darkened bedroom, high windows filled with pale sunlight, vast empty rooms, smoky kitchens, and the pale angelic face of a dead young woman -- "Nightwatching" is a bit like seeing a painting in motion. And Peter Greenaway gives the movie a very unique flavor -- most of the interior scenes look like they were filmed on theatrical stage sets, with limited camera angles and soft glowing light falling from above. It works gloriously.

In fact, the only directorial aspect that falls flat is when Rembrandt breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience about how he met and married Saskia. Come on, no talking to the camera!

Not that this movie is all ethereal beauty -- there's lots of bawdy, earthy humor, sensuality (Geertje posing nude for her lover) and a wicked sense of humour, such as Rembrandt lampooning various stuffy military portraits. But the tone becomes darker as the plot winds on, and we start to see what is up with the ethereal, broken teenage girl who wanders onto rooftops to talk to Rembrandt. Throughout it all, there's the feeling that Greenaway has turned dusty history into vibrant flesh-and-blood realism.

Freeman is absolutely amazing as Rembrandt -- selfish, passionate, loving, rebellious, foul-mouthed, volatile and vibrant, a man who lives every moment to the full. You might not actually like to know the guy, but Freeman does make him seem entirely real. And you end up liking him despite his weird mood swings -- as Saskia lies dying, he weeps pitifully into her lap; after she dies, he's seen tersely telling her "Bloody get up!" because he can't cope without her.

And Birthistle, May and Holmes make a solid trio of women of women who shared Rembrandt's bed and life. The first two are especially great: Birthistle particularly is smart, gutsy and Rembrandt's equal in every way, while May serves as a capable, down-to-earth seductress who winds her way into Rembrandt's affections after Saskia's death. And Natalie Press is eerily haunting as the tragic servant girl Marieke.

"Nightwatching" is literally pretty as a picture, but it also has a solid plot with plenty of period earthiness to keep it grounded. Peter Greenaway really outdid himself with this one."
A masterpiece....Greenaway's best work since Prospero's Book
Grigory's Girl | NYC | 09/24/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I adored this movie. I've always been a big Peter Greenaway fan (and I've actually met him as well), but he hasn't been heard of lately, and his Tulse Luper trilogy was hardly released at all. The few clips of that series were quite stodgy and boring. So when Nightwatching came out on DVD, I had reasonably decent expectations. It surprassed them. Nightwatching is a masterpiece, one of Greenaway's best films, and his best film since Prospero's Books.

There is so much to admire in this film. After his disappointing 8 1/2 Women (his worst film), seeing the great Greenaway style again in top form is heartwarming. The cinemtography is really striking. It's some of the best I've seen in Greenaway's work in a long time. The sets are wonderful, the dialogue is witty and hysterical at times, and there's a lot of genuine emotions throughout the film. The intrigue about the painting and the aftermath when it's finished is absolutely fascinating. There is swearing in this film, and while Rembrandt didn't swear like this in his day, the foul language doesn't seem out of place in this setting. The film is told often in a very stylized style, so it's not a completely straightforward biopic, which I find refreshing. It reminds me a little of Derek Jarman's "biographical" films (like Wittgenstein), which tried to get inside the head of the subject more than telling a straightfoward story of their lives.

The most surprising thing about this film is the absolutely wonderful performance by Martin Freeman as Rembrandt. Freeman is a good actor, but he's best known as Tim from the original The Office series, and I was a little weary of seeing him in a real dramatic role. My fears were groundless, as he pulls this role off amazingly. You totally believe he's Rembrandt. The other performances are really good as well, and the film is a must for Greenaway fans, but other people should watch it as well. Nighwatching is one of Peter's best works, a welcome return for a filmmaker that many have forgotten about (but shouldn't have)."
A basically lousy movie that will probably become the (unsee
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 04/21/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This is a very talky, very stagy film that does its d---dest to turn the gigantic figure of Rembrandt van Rijn into a horny little dwarf.

I saw it during its two-week run at one of the multiplexes here in Vancouver. There were six people in the auditorium with me. A member of the theater staff informed me afterwards that this had been one of the film's more successful showings.

Here follows a more or less objective look at "Nightwatching":

The film has the look of (and in effect is) a photographed stage play in which a small fortune has been spent on flamboyant costumes and about $1.86 on sets.

The focus of the film is the creation of a group portrait of the members of a company of the civic militia. The portrait, an enormous picture, is commonly called "The Nightwatch," despite the inconvenient facts that the militia company were not night watchmen nor is it a night scene but, heigh-ho, that's art history for you. Rembrandt, already a well-known painter, but not yet REMBRANDT, is in his mid-thirties, married, about to become a father and portrayed as a callow idiot, not unlike the callowly idiotic Mozart of "Amadeus."

"Nightwatching" is clearly one of the brood of illegitimate pseudo-histories spawned by the appalling success of "The Da Vinci Code." Of course, the painting must be a puzzle, and of course the audience must be dragged step by step through the puzzle.

It seems that Rembrandt has taken it into his head that this particular group of prosperous weekend-warriors had figured out a way to make more than a few guilders out of the civil war that was taking place between the Puritans and Cavaliers across the water in England. It also seems that one of their members is--in some never quite convincingly explained way--a hindrance to all that expected profit. The militia company's solution to this little problem is to do away with the stubborn fellow during a weekly practice session, and to do it in such a way that it looks just like the kind of accident that has routinely killed two or three militiamen in the Netherlands during each month of the year.

Rembrandt, being in the know, proceeds to load his big picture with all kinds of symbolism in a sort of smirking child's game of "I know something you don't know." His subjects, who are of course paying handsomely for the privilege of having the artist snigger at them, know precisely what Rembrandt is doing. An average movie-goer might find that a little hard to square with the fact that no contemporary noticed the symbolism nor, for that matter, did the critics of the following centuries. However, the author-auteur-director easily gets over that potential rough patch by having his band of cut-throats and murderers pay up and simply refuse to acknowledge any shadow of doubt (publicly, that is). Oh, they'll subtly manipulate the art market to insure that Rembrandt eventually will go broke, but what the heck, he was clearly already on that path without any outside help.

Rembrandt's home life is the burden of a secondary strand in "Nightwatching." This involves all the usual stuff, child prostitution--of which Rembrandt seems mildly to disapprove--treacherous in-laws, mercenary women, on-screen sex, premature deaths attributable to natural causes and otherwise. Rembrandt is portrayed by an up-and coming young English actor who gives us a petty good portrait of an up-and-coming young actor portraying Rembrandt. He actually bears a remarkable physical resemblance to the youthful Rembrandt of the magnificent self-portraits, alas, one of the strongest arguments to be offered against the many--too d----d many, believe me!--scenes of full frontal nudity. The woman in the film are more attractive, they could hardly be less, but even their nude scenes are unerotic to an almost astonishing extent. And only an auteur of Greenaway's stature could manage to make a fairly explicit depiction of sodomy absolutely boring.

All this aside, there is one unacknowledged but vast, gaping hole in the movie. For all its examination of the details of Rembrandt's huge painting, there is no place in the film in which anyone notices that it is a true masterpiece, a picture for the ages. While there were many group portraits before 1642, "The Nightwatch" has but one older peer, Raphael's "The School of Athens." While there have been many group portraits since, there has been nothing to compare with it, even remotely, for over 350 years.

That is what I regard as the objective view. Here, on the other hand, is what a certain sort of cineaste might think:

The world stinks! That old dead white male, Rembrandt stinks like all the rest as he rejoices in corruption in his home, in his community and on his canvases. This film casts a sharp and cold eye at tired, old, threadbare, patriarchal notions of "art" and "beauty" to reveal TRUTH in all its foul smelling, unclean, grungy reality. A must-see for every festival and required viewing for all film students.

Three stars, for after all, it actually could have been worse.

LEC/Am/4-09"
Review of "Rembrandt's J'accuse" (Disc 2): Captivating Art H
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 01/06/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)

""Rembrandt's J'accuse" is a companion piece to Peter Greenaway's "Nightwatching" (2007), a narrative film that dramatizes Greenaway's theory about Rembrandt van Rijn's creation in 1642 of his (currently) most famous painting, "The Night Watch". "Rembrandt's J'accuse" also presents Greenaway's theories about "The Night Watch", but this time the filmmaker does so in person, narrating an investigation into 34 different elements of the painting to make the case that Rembrandt's group portrait of the 13th Company of the Amsterdam Militia is an indictment of guilty parties in a murder conspiracy against Capt. Piers Hasselburg, who died from an "accidental" gunshot through the eye.

Greenaway speaks to us from a small window near the center of the screen, while a parade of paintings, dramatic re-enactments (borrowed from "Nightwatching"), and other visuals parade across the screen. He believes (or so he says) that Rembrandt acted as investigator, detective, and prosecutor in the death of Piers Hasselburg and painted his accusations for all the world to see. Now Greenaway acts as detective and prosecutor, even questioning witnesses from his box center screen, attempting to unearth the clues that Rembrandt supposedly planted in "The Night Watch", an act that Greenaway posits invited his persecution from the painting's angry commissioners, leading to the artist's decline from popularity and eventual destitution.

Sounds pretty far-fetched, especially considering that no one has ever put forth this conspiratorial hypothesis before. But it does invite a close reading of the images in "The Night Watch", a painting that radically departed from traditional Dutch group military portraits by depicting its 16 officers, 16 militiamen, 2 women and one dog in dynamic poses, often with faces partly obscured, something the men who commissioned the painting did not appreciate. But is there more to it? Greenaway picks apart 34 different aspects of the painting to make a case that Rembrandt is accusing the two most prominently featured men, Capt. Frans Banning Cocq and Lt. Willem van Roytenburgh, of conspiracy to murder, among other things.

The motive for murder is muddy, and many of Greenaway's clues seem specious, but I like the film a lot. The artist obviously painted everything on the canvas intentionally, even if some of it is just there to take up space or create balance. Nothing in a painting is accidental, so speculating on the purpose of every element is legitimate, even if it is sometimes imaginative. In fact, I agree that Banning Cocq and van Roytenburgh are portrayed in an unflattering light, though I doubt that a murder plot had anything to do with it. Personal animosity seems more likely. Peter Greenaway is arrogant, opinionated, and his films can be pretentious. But he's also sharp, knowledgable, and talented, and those qualities trump his odd theories in "Rembrandt's J'accuse"."