As Peter GreenawayÂ’s first feature film since the completion of the Tulse Luper Cycle, Nightwatching hits back with a dynamic look at RembrandtÂ’s public and private life. The dramatic catalyst is created by his controversial approach to his most famous work, The Night Watch. The film itself, nominated for a Golden Lion in Venice, follows RembrandtÂ’s demise from a 36 year old, top of his form, top of his career, top painter in Amsterdam, to a wounded man entangled in a tale mixing painting, theatre, politics, innocence and vanity. The unravelling of these themes works loosely in an extravagant and compelling murder mystery, true to GreenawayÂ’s style; it echoes themes of the directorÂ’s first feature Â‘The DraughtsmanÂ’s ContractÂ’.
GreenawayÂ’s cast boasts a wealth of British, Canadian and Dutch actors, lead superbly by a stocky-legged, pot-bellied Martin Freeman (the HitchhikerÂ’s Guide to the Galaxy) who provides the audience with a witty, yet pitiable, Rembrandt. Freeman manages to combine and present an increasingly vulnerable character struggling with a brave purpose. Not surprising when it seems that one of GreenawayÂ’s talents (see GreenawayÂ’s harrowing film: Â‘The Cook, The Thief, The Wife and Her LoverÂ’) is exposing Â‘the inner manÂ’ and his internal emotional conflicts.
Supporting Freeman in his leading role is Eva Birtwhistle who plays RembrandtÂ’s wife, Saskia. Singularly, Birtwhistle gives a sense of domestic warmth to a film which intentionally exposes clarity on the grim nature of various crimes.
For what is essentially another welcomed excuse to marvel at GreenawayÂ’s immense talents with lighting and poignancy, the audience is not disappointed. Nightwatching, whilst scattered with bare nudity and harsh humanity, is entirely focussed on the intricate, emotional conflicts weaved into a tightly-knitted plot. Greenaway employs his own fascination with Rembrandt to good use in experimenting with lighting. Working with Director of Photography Reiner van Brummelen, Greenaway lights almost every scene as a Rembrandt painting, rich in shadows and hidden figures.
Peter Greenaway is a film-making idol to audiences and actors alike. Freeman, when asked what attracted him to making the film, he replied Â‘it was too good an opportunity to missÂ’. The real success of the film lies in GreenawayÂ’s ability to plant this innovative mark on any of his films. As the audience discovers Rembrandt paints himself into his piece The Night Watch, similarly Greenaway paints himself into his feature film through his remarkably, prominent film making traits.
Cult fans of Peter Greenaway will find plenty to thrill them here. Non-followers may be left shocked at his harsh treatment of some of humanityÂ’s darker traits such as the question of when womanhood beings, which toes being offensive. But fundamentally it is a decent biography of the best painter to exist after the renaissance and it leaves the audience a chance to admire not only GreenawayÂ’s work but also RembrandtÂ’s. Both are artists of light and subjects of darkness.