The Night Watch | Original Title: Nightwatching

This was the official site for the 2007 Peter Greenaway film, Nightwatching. Content is from outside sources including reviews from RottenToamtoes.

 

Original title Nightwatching
Year: 2007
Duration: 134 min.
Country: United Kingdom
Director: Peter Greenaway
Script: Peter Greenaway
Music: Wlodzimierz Pawlik
Photograph: Reinier van Brummelen
Distribution: Martin Freeman , Emily Holmes , Eva Birthistle , Jodhi May , Toby Jones , Natalie Press  Michael Teigen
Producer: Co-production GB-Poland-Canada-Netherlands
Gender: drama | Biographic . XVII century . Painting

Synopsis:

It portrays a tragic period in the life of the painter Rembrandt van Rijn, when the artist loses his wife and three children. At that time, around 1642, it is when - on request - he painted one of his best known paintings, 'The Night Watch', the canvas that reflects the conspiracy of a vile murder. (FILMAFFINITY)

Awards

2007: Venice Film F

 

TOMATOMETER  CRITICS 76% | AUDIENCE 62%

 

CRITICS REVIEWS

March 25, 2010

**** Trevor Johnston  Time Out Top Critic

This intriguing and revelatory blend of human drama and art-history detective work argues that Rembrandt peppered the canvas of his masterpiece ‘The Night Watch’ with a cleverly coded attack on the Amsterdam bigwigs whose egos he was commissioned to flatter. Deftly combining character study and cultural documentary, it marks Peter Greenaway’s return to the cinema after years of museum installations and multimedia work. He’s been guilty of patience-testing pretension in the past, but this is impressively focused and accessible, shaped around a truly expressive balls-out performance from Martin Freeman as Rembrandt. What’s surprising (in the context of Greenaway’s often chilly past oeuvre) is the film’s genuine compassion for the sufferings of wives, maids and vulnerable orphans, adding an emotive underpinning to its sharp observations on the purpose of art and the nature of representation. It’s not just Greenaway’s best film in years, but one of his best films, period.

 

+++

March 6, 2009

** Peter Howell Toronto Star Top Critic

Starring Martin Freeman, Eva Birthistle, Jodhi May and Emily Holmes. Written and directed by Peter Greenaway. 134 minutes. At the Cumberland. 18A

The phrase "exasperating elegance" comes to mind in assessing Nightwatching, Peter Greenaway's latest flight of fancy.

The Welsh auteur is in his element in bringing Rembrandt's famed "The Night Watch" to dramatic life, taking a leaf from author Dan Brown's profitable fascination with the artwork of Leonard Da Vinci. More art director than film director, Greenaway puts his visuals ahead of his narratives at all times.

He isn't one to sully his defiantly outré stance by making anything as mainstream as The Da Vinci Code, however. Although Nightwatching is his most linear narrative in some time – and a good deal more satisfying that his tiresome Tulse Luper multimedia indulgences of recent years – Greenaway continues to vex anyone who seeks anything so prosaic as a good story.

What truly galls is that Greenaway has the germ of a great movie here. "The Night Watch" is one of the art world's finest mysteries, with unorthodox elements that have fascinated viewers since the 17th century. Who are the military men depicted in it? Why do they strike such a relaxed pose? Who is the girl at the centre left of the painting, and what does she represent?

Greenaway ventures opinions on all of these questions, but does so obliquely and with no assist to the befuddled. He employs whimsy and pathos to follow the painting from its original commission for Rembrandt (Martin Freeman), which the artist regards as strictly a paycheque gig, through to its completion and subsequent mixed reception.

"Goddamned painting of the militia pretending to be mighty soldiers!" Rembrandt grouses to his wife Saskia (Eva Birthistle), after he is bullied into the assignment by supporters and members of the Amsterdam Musketeer Militia.

Along the way, Rembrandt encounters complications both philosophical and sexual. The former comes by way of his growing dislike of his subjects and his suspicions that they are allied with murder and child prostitution.

On the latter complication, he proves himself easily distracted by the charms of Geertje (Jodhi May), who is far more attentive to him than the pregnant and moody Saskia. Freeman and May are explicitly and repeatedly viewed in the buff, but Freeman has had ample experience in this, since he played the unlikely porn star in Love, Actually.

He's also an unlikely Rembrandt, but a good one, bringing to mind Tom Hulce's energetic portrayal of the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus.

How maddening it is, though, that Greenaway refuses to stitch together anything resembling a coherent storyline. Most of the characters are ill-defined, their scenes disjointed (when not downright mystifying) and their dialogue is often drowned out by a classical score that strays into the bombastic.

Visually, however, Nightwatching is above reproach. Greenaway poses his subjects and lights them much the way Rembrandt did, and the interplay of shadows is amazing. You want to slap the ninny who complains, gazing upon the completed painting, "Bring on some candles!"

But then you might also feel like slapping Greenaway for being such a stubborn and uncompromising cuss.

 

+++

 

May 18, 2010 | Rating: B

Dennis Schwartz  Ozus' World Movie Reviews

"Like all Greenaway films, it's not for all tastes."

Cinema provocateur Peter Greenaway ("8 1/2 Women"/"Prospero's Books"/"The Belly of an Architect") directs this visually pleasing highly personal biopic of the Dutch painter Rembrandt (Martin Freeman) that also can be viewed as an oddball art history lesson involving a murder plot (with Greenaway playing fast and loose with the facts to give us a look into the troubled mind of the painter who must face his critics, as he offers groundbreaking art). It focuses on 1642, when the painter goes from a wealthy respected painter to a discredited pauper. Following his nagging pregnant wife Saskia's (Eva Birthistle) advice, the reluctant Rembrandt takes on the large commission to paint the Amsterdam Musketeer Militia in a group portrait of the 18 that would later become known as The Night Watch and become his masterpiece.

While painting, the artist discovers a murder plot involving his egotistical bigwig subjects he was called on to flatter in this portrait and becomes determined to expose the conspiracy.  Rembrandt  builds his accusation in the form of his painting, following through on his decision to uncover the seamy and hypocritical side to Dutch Society in the Golden Age. But his good fortunes change as Saskia dies. Meanwhile Rembrandt builds his case for the murder plot involving conflict over finances among his arrogant subjects, but the conspirators plan revenge and discredit him by planting a caretaker, Geertje (Jodhi May), to seduce him and become his mistress. They further diabolically plan his social and financial ruin, and succeed into driving him into poverty, insult his young mistress Hendrickje (Emily Holmes), conspire to destroy his son, and eventually bring Rembrandt to ruin.

The film is shot for the most part from around the artist's bed, and the opulent richly colored film looks as if it were a canvas being painted. It's an exotic look at the mystery behind Rembrand's famous painting, and should be pleasing to Greenaway fans. But like all Greenaway films, it's not for all tastes. Be warned that Greenaway's take on the painting is interesting but questionable.

 

+++

AUDIENCE REVIEWS

 

**** Lilianetty l January 15, 2012

Defenetly loved it! When the movie started I was seeing theater instead of a movie. You will think I'm mad, but the way it was filmed, it looked to me as I was watching a play in real life without being there really watching it. It was so interesting from that perspective, I enjoyed the 2 hours and 15 minutes it lasts. Really, a great job from director, crew and cast no doubt!

Plot: Rembrandt is a famous artist or may I say painter from the 17 century. I never heard of him but now I will do research of his paintings (which the ones showed in the movie look amazing and very well done...yes, those are real ones or just copies of the real ones). But seriously, if this was Rembrandt life, it was a mix of tragedy with a long time drama that had a painful ending but still his paintings (arts) will be remember forever. Stars? Defenetly yes.

Acting: Bravo Martin Freeman! Defenetly an excellent job. This man has made of this role his own, he nailed it. I was shocked in some scenes but anyway, it was a magnific job. Same from Eva as May, incredible actress and what a talent. Toby (my fave Dobby voice over actor) did also an explendit work. Emily, Natalie and Jodhi and the rest of the male cast, were explendit and marvelous. Really, no more words, since everyone here did an excellent job and defenetly this movie will be one of those inspirational movies I will re-watch if I get to have the chance to study it or do a play based on this century someday. Stars for everyone.

Music: Best part evar. The musicians did also an incredible and bloody brilliant job! Loved it from start to the very ending. Stars for everyone too!

To end this 7th Art review, 4 stars of 5. Enjoy and HASTA LA PROXIMA AMIGOS/AS! CHAO! BLESS YOU ALL!!!

 

+++

 

December 15, 2011

Eric B *** ½ Super Reviewer

Certainly, "Nightwatching" -- writer/director Peter Greenaway's inventive take on Rembrandt's masterpiece "The Night Watch" -- has a brilliant premise. Ever obsessed with detail to queasy extremes, Greenaway revisits the portrait and imagines that it contains veiled attacks upon its pictured military elite. (I suspect his initial inspiration came from snickering at the central figure's hand shadow, which seems to "grope" the crotch of an adjacent man.)

Martin Freeman (best known for a much different role in the British version of "The Office") portrays Rembrandt as an incorrigible, vulgar smart-ass. Indeed, his wisecracking manner seems almost anachronistic, though a passing reference to Manhattan suggests that such impressions may be intentional. In a film about a legendary painter which never actually shows him painting, narrative aberrations must be expected.

Rembrandt's kindred spirit is his sharp-tongued wife Saskia, who becomes pregnant early in the plot. Unfortunately, this was the 1600's and childbirth was a much riskier procedure. In bearing their son Titus, Saskia has internal complications from which she never recovers.

Meanwhile, a dubious group of military noblemen commissions Rembrandt to paint their portrait. He skeptically accepts the job because he needs the money. But once the project becomes underway, he learns of various acts of debauchery, violence and cruelty that these men have committed. So, he decides to subtly incorporate clues about their sins into the painting. Wickedly ingenious.

All this is fascinating, but the script makes a poor choice in positioning the work's climactic unveiling (and its subjects' furious response) with about 45 minutes left in the film. From there, the story just treads water. Greenaway mostly uses the extra time to boost the nudity content (which had been unusually low by his standards, up until then). We see the militia wreak its revenge, draining Rembrandt's prestige and fortune, and there's one valuable scene where a character analyzes the differences between "The Night Watch" and the era's more stiffly posed portraits. But elsewhere, the attention paid to Rembrandt's subsequent mistress and second wife seems off-topic -- this is a film about the creation of a painting, not a biography.

The theatrical staging, dim lighting and meticulous production design will be familiar to the director's fans, but "Nightwatching" is not as fiendishly structured as some other Greenaway movies and -- except for its length -- it's easier to watch. If you're looking for an entry point to this filmmaker and his uniquely intellectual style, this is one of the better candidates.

 

+++

Man October 9, 2010

***** The Berg Man The Berg

Director Peter Greenaway becomes himself the hero of his previous triumph, The Belly of an Architect with Nightwatching, a film about the creation of Rembrandt's infamous portrait of a wealthy Dutch militia. In Architect, Greenaway constructs the story of an American architect planning an exhibition in Rome on the works of an obscure French enlightenment-era architect. The American, played wonderfully by Brian Dennehy obsesses over the works and life of Etienne-Louis Boullée, writing him postcards constantly. His obsession is also over his own sickness, and as the title implies, his belly. In Nightwatching, Greenaway, the painting enthusiast obsesses over Rembrandt (especially considering along with Nightwatching, he also made the documentary Rembrandt's J'accuse about the mysteries surrounding the painting, which I have yet to watch).

In the movie, Rembrandt is persuaded to paint the portrait by his wife against his will. When plots and conspiracies begin to spring up amongst the men of the militia, including one mysterious death, illegitimate children in an orphanage/brothel, and mysterious disappearances, Rembrandt decides to pursue the project as a means of exposing the militia as the actors they are. Rembrandt's private life gets thrown into turmoil along the way when his wife falls ill after a troubled pregnancy. Eventually, the painting is completed and Rembrandt is left alone to watch his life fall to pieces.

If you are at all familiar with Greenaway's work, the film's look will not be a surprise at all. Greenaway despises the mainstream's reliance on a novel structure in film making; instead granting primacy to the visuals over the narrative. However, like Architect, Night Watching is rather straightforward by his standards (as opposed to the impossible to follow but undoubted masterpiece The Draughtsman's Contract). His frames are very much constructed like the frames of a painting. Never is anything implied, it is always on screen, though possibly only in allusion. Greenaway first and foremost is a producer of images, and as such, has made some of the most visually spectacular films I've ever seen. Even lesser works like 8 1/2 Women are still visually marvelous, even if otherwise unimpressive.

Also a trademark of Greenaway's work is the pacing. It essentially moves as fast as the average painting. But with so much to be seen, this is never really a hindrance (though bits of the last hour do drag a bit longer than need be). It's masterfully constructed, resulting in an almost Oedipal tragedy by the conclusion.

There is only one issue I can raise with this film, and I'm sure it can be easily explained on thematic grounds. Rembrandt's painting The Night Watch is not a night scene at all, as has been well noted. The painting has darkened over time from what was originally a day setting. Why Greenaway, who undoubtedly knows this, chose to use the painting as it appears now, as opposed to as it must have appeared when new is a bit perplexing. However, given the thematic emphasis Greenaway places on Rembrandt's frequent searching, often on his roof staring blankly into the night's sky, it seems obvious that this wasn't a simple mistake, but rather a calculated decision. Whether or not the painting is a night scene doesn't actually matter to the movie; the night scene that appears at present better serves motifs found in the film, and thus is the more fitting version for the film.

I don't think I would consider this Greenaway's best work. It would be hard for any director to top a film like his 1988 work of art, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. However, I feel this film does come close. The drama is more human than in most of Greenaway's works. The characters actually resemble characters as would appear in movies, as opposed to his usual bias toward creating characters as they would appear in paintings. Yet the film is still made with careful magnificence that only Greenaway seems capable. I can't think of another director who can even make some of his worst films look so amazingly good. Luckily, this is not one of his worst films.

Now if only someone could convince Greenaway to make a film about Velazquez.

NightwatchingTheFilm.com