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The Draughtsman's Contract

2 Ratings: 4.0
A movie directed by Peter Greenaway

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Tags: Movies
Director: Peter Greenaway
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Release Date: 7 July 1983 (Australia)
1 review about The Draughtsman's Contract

"Your significance, Mr. Neville, is attributable to both innocence and arrogance, in equal parts."

  • Mar 2, 2011
Rating:
+5
We're in post Restoration England in 1694, and at a country estate filled with condescending, witty, superficial creatures dressed in heavy satins and lace, with chalk dusted cheeks, painted cupid lips and beauty spots, and wearing magnificent high wigs with cascading curls down to the waist...and that's just the men.
 
In their midst is Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), a talented, successful and arrogant artist whose father, we learn later, was a tenant farmer. He is engaged by the lady of the estate, Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) to draw 12 views of the estate as a present for her clod of a husband, who will be away on business for the next 15 days. Mr. Neville declines. The unhappily married Mrs. Herbert increases his fee. Mr. Neville again declines. Mrs. Herbert offers him her intimate pleasure along with the fee. At that, Mr. Neville agrees. A contract is prepared which spells out Mr. Neville's exact requirements for the 12 views and Mrs. Herbert's contractual obligation for his pleasure. In the course of these two weeks the detailed views will be drawn, pleasure will be taken, Mrs. Herbert's daughter, Mrs. Tallman, will offer a contract of her own and we will learn a bit about heirs and impotency. The absent Mr. Herbert will return, but as a corpse discovered in the estate's moat.
 
I have no doubt that Peter Greenaway knew exactly what he was doing with The Draughtsman's Contract. Me? I know what I think happened...probably. I like this movie immensely. Discussing the meaning behind Greenaway's films like The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her lover or Prospero’s Books or The Draughtsman's Contract at one time was almost a small industry among film students and certain cineastes. A good place to start this sort of discussion, however, is not with "Greenaway is noted for..." but with "I think Greenaway was aiming at this..." That "I" language makes the speaker own his or her opinions, and almost invariably decreases the "Izzat so?" quotient. 
 
What I know is that I think The Draughtsman's Contract is a mannered, magnificent puzzle of a film, where everyone speaks in complete sentences. It's stuffed full of elegance, precision, disconcerting oddness, uncomfortable relationships, hidden motives, ego, style, art, sex, eye burning, murder and ambiguity. When this is all stirred together with Greenaway's imagination and ability to create disconcerting and beautiful visions, what more could a person want? Well, perhaps a story that moves from plot point to plot point, all clear and tidy, and with an ending that leaves us satisfied and happy. If that's so, then Greenaway is not for you.
 
"Your significance, Mr. Neville," says one important character, "is attributable to both innocence and arrogance, in equal parts." Mr. Neville's arrogance doesn't allow more than contempt for those privileged, condescending, shallow people he now is surrounded by during these two weeks. His innocence keeps him from considering the possibilities of what he sees but doesn't see. He is a man whose lovemaking is brutally self-centered and as mannered as his conversation, with his conversation continuing during his lovemaking, "You must forgive my curiosity, madam, and open your knees." Even so, we begin to feel a little uncomfortable for him. Almost as important to the plot is that Mr. Neville draws exactly what he sees. But what does he see? A window that is open when it should be closed? A ladder against a wall? A jacket on a bush when there had been a sheet? A pair of riding boots? It all has a point, but some of it is pure Greenaway. What is, after all, the point of the countertenor...or of the naked statue who is not a statue...or, for that matter, of the 13th drawing? How sure are we of the significance of the three pomegranates...or the last scene where we witness a slobbering bite of pineapple? I don't know, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
 
Janet Suzman and Anthony Higgins carry us along in great style. Almost as important are Anne-Louise Lambert as Mrs. Tallman, Mrs. Herbert's daughter, and Hugh Fraser as Mr. Tallman. The movie is gorgeous to look at, painterly in its compositions and without, in my opinion, a dull moment. All that clever, mannered dialogue sounds straight from a Restoration melodrama. The Draughtsman's Contract is a wonderful movie. 

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