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~Winner at 2007 Venice Film Festival~

Peter Greenaway finds a subject perfectly matched to his formidable, restless intellect in Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’. One of the greatest paintings of all time, it is rich with historical and aesthetic allusions. It was also a radical political statement in its day; so scandalized were the smug Dutch bourgeoisie by the work that it likely bankrupted its maker and ruined his personal life. These various elements have inspired Greenaway to make a kind of mystery thriller, tracing the events leading up to and just past the bold painting’s creation. Nightwatching is at once a fascinating tale of aristocratic intrigue and an art-history tutorial, frequently asking questions about how art itself acts as an agent in the world’s affairs. Greenaway’s film is also remarkable to look at. He has gone to great lengths to imagine for the screen the fabrics, metals, light, period detail and sense of space that make Dutch painting of the Golden Age, and Rembrandt’s work in particular, so distinctive and moving. The film begins in 1642. Rembrandt van Rijn (Martin Freeman) is perhaps the most famous painter in Europe, and his profession has made him extremely wealthy. His agent and his pregnant, business-savvy wife, Saskia (Eva Birthistle), convince him to take a new commission, despite his serious misgivings. He is to paint the Amsterdam Musketeer Militia, a group of puffed-up merchants who play at soldiering but really use the Militia as a social club. Rembrandt suspects that the men will be unpleasant to deal with, but it is only when he learns of the seedy conspiracies – including a murder – plotted within their ranks that he decides to expose their ugly deeds and hypocrisies through the portrait itself. This is Greenaway’s most narratively satisfying film in some time. Fairly linear at the start, it gradually opens up to include commentary – in theatrical asides and also from a kind of chorus – that mocks and celebrates the unfolding morality play. Rembrandt is never less than fully human in rising British actor Freeman’s skilled portrayal. Flashy, with a big ego and a host of quotidian desires, the master emerges here as an Everyman in over his head. – Noah Cowan, Toronto International Film Festival
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Directed by: 
Peter Greenaway
Running Time: 
Canada, France, Germany, Poland, Netherlands, UK
Martin Freeman, Emily Holmes, Eva Birthistle, Toby Jones, Natalie Press
Screenplay by: 
Peter Greenaway

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