Peter Greenaway • Director
Towards cubist cinema
- The English director presented the first instalment of his most ambitious film to date, The Tulse Luper Suitcases in Cannes. "Life is everywhere, cinema is just in front of you"
It’s been three years since Eight women and a half and one of England and the world’s most enigmatic filmmakers, Peter Greenaway, king of Baroque lighting, cruel chiaroscuro effects, naked and dried-out corpses, ferocious human behaviour as portrayed by Caravaggio, mythology, obsessive and minimalist music by Michel Nyman, announced his new film. And just when we were getting used to the fact that perhaps Greenaway didn’t really exist and was a mere figment of our collective imagination.
Then came The Tulse Luper Suitcases, his most expensive and ambitious work to date, produced with his habitual business partner, Kess Kasander, and, amongst others, Italy’s Gam Film. For those who’ve just tuned in, Tulse Luper is Greenaway’s alter ego: born 30 years ago when Greenaway was busy inventing all sorts of stories about Luper. “Luper derives from the Latin for “wolf” while Tulse is “pulse” deformed. A pulse is the beat and rhythm of life itself,” explained Greenaway. Although any and all other explanations are welcome. Wherever the truth may be, Tulse Luper is an evasive and ambiguous character whose existence is a source of reasonable doubt right up until the end. The end, that is, of a project that began life as a trilogy. The first part of which has just screened at the Cannes Film Festival with Greenaway promising that the other two will see the light of day in Venice and Berlin. Although the year is a moot point.
What Greenaway does tell us is that in his opus magnum: “the screen in my film is divided and is subdivided into squares. And that is just the beginning. It is ridiculous to expect the audience to sit there for two hours looking straight ahead. Life is everywhere, above, below, in front, behind... cinema is just in front. We need to create cubist cinema where the screen is everywhere.” And what can he tell us about the suitcases of the title? The suitcases that Tulse Luper leaves all over the world, almost as if they were messages in bottles? “The suitcase is the place where we pack out belongings, our mementoes and our toothbrush. It symbolises never-ending motion. And it is rectangular like a cinema screen.”
Valentina Cervi is just one of Greenaway’s multiple cast of actors. She plays Cissie Colpitts, another name that fans of Greenaway’s incredibly fertile imagination will recall since this character appears in at least three of this films. Cissie is the angel that saves Tulse Luper but also the devil that makes love with a woman and eternal love that is a feature of every episode. “What did we talk about on the set? We actors would say things like: any idea what we are doing today? What is this film about? Nobody knew anything but we were all captured by Greenaway and pleased to be part of a project we all felt was extraordinary.”
Faithful to historical infedelity and with a predilection for surprising the spectator, Greenaway shuffled the cards of this film, thus: on location in Leipzig, he called it Antwerp or Dinard became Paris. The next instalment will be made in Turin and it will be called Turin in the film. Greenaway is trying to persuade Madonna to join the cast of the third episode. She is said to be thinking about the project. And on that, Greenaway gets up to go, with a final throwaway; “Cinema is nothing in particular. The world is still fun and surprising and more fascinating than any film could ever hope to be.” Except for Greenaway’s, we are tempted to shout.
The second part of the trilogy will see Ornella Muti, Anna Galiena, Isabella Rossellini and Francesco Salvi starring.
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