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Peter Greenaway • Director

"Rembrandt, a cross between Mick Jagger and Bill Gates"


Peter Greenaway • Director

Three years after his latest film, The Tulse Luper Suitcase, Peter Greenaway returns to one of his favourite eras – 19th century Netherlands, a country where the director has been living for several years.

In Nightwatching [+see also:
film profile
, the director explores the life of Rembrandt during the painting of "The Night Watch" – a work that marked the beginning of the artist’s decline. This €5.1m co-production – a first between the Netherlands, the UK, France and Poland – is expected to be completed in time for the Cannes Film Festival.

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"If Rembrandt were alive today, he would be like a cross between Mick Jagger and Bill Gates. At 23, he was well-known, extremely rich and he followed the trends of his time. His paintings were exhibited throughout Europe. But, as soon as he painted his masterpiece The Night Watch, his career suddenly fell apart; he began to lose everything: his fortune, his reputation, his status. He went completely bankrupt," says British helmer Greenaway about his new film, Nightwatching.

In fact, Greenaway is making this film to try to explain the mystery behind Rembrandt’s downfall and, in doing so, is not only bringing the master of Flemish painting back to life, but also each of the characters in his masterpiece. "The painting is a political satire but it also conceals a great criminal mystery. There are at least fifty secret questions. I am even arrogant enough to say that we have solved all of them,” says the director.

Most of the film was shot in Wrocław, Poland, between September 4 and October 23 (see news). The team then headed to Wales for another eight days of filming. It was not the first time Greenaway thought about coming to Poland. When he was younger and fascinated by Polish films by Polański, Zanussi and Wajda, as well as Russian (Eisenstein remains his idol to this day), he originally planned to study cinema at the famous Łódź Film School.

Torn between his two passions – cinema and fine arts – the director chose painting. "Although I had studied to be a painter, in the end I said to myself that painting is an art that is thousands of years old and I would probably have more opportunities if I did something more worthwhile in cinema, which is a more modern art form. I thought my work would give the best results if I put my knowledge of painting to use in cinema," says Greenaway. Indeed, the presence of painting is the focal point of several of the director’s films. "Those who have seen A Pure English Murder, a film on the interpretation of images, know that on the set of Nightwatching, I’m in familiar territory," he adds. In fact, Greenaway sees Rembrandt as the pioneer of cinema. "Rembrandt, Vélasquez, Le Caravage all came before the Lumière brothers and invented cinema hundreds of years ago. Cinema is a manipulation of light and they were masters of it. Rembrandt’s paintings are like still frames from a film. He still isn’t my favourite painter though. At least five of the films I’ve made have an event set in the same century the painter lived: the 17th. It was a period of great importance for Europe as a whole. Had he lived at another time, Rembrandt could not be what he was back then," Greenaway points out.

With cinema as we know it coming to an end, Greenaway is exploring a new creative field – multimedia projects – which he is making as a VJ (Video Jockey). One of his projects, Tulse Luper VJ Tour, has been presented in a number of European cities. "I believe in the theory that says we are witnessing the death of cinema. We therefore have to prevent this. My new film tries to do just that."

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