Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones To Lead Paul Feig's 'Ghostbusters' Reboot Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones To Lead Paul Feig's 'Ghostbusters' Reboot Harvey Weinstein Explains What Happened With 'Grace Of Monaco,' Says He Was Right About 'Snowpiercer' Harvey Weinstein Explains What Happened With 'Grace Of Monaco,' Says He Was Right About 'Snowpiercer' Harvey Weinstein Says Quentin Tarantino Has Changed The Last Chapter Of 'The Hateful Eight' Harvey Weinstein Says Quentin Tarantino Has Changed The Last Chapter Of 'The Hateful Eight' Sundance Review: ‘Slow West’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn Sundance Review: ‘Slow West’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' The 10 Best Films Of 2004 The 10 Best Films Of 2004 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck The 10 Best Films Of 2003 The 10 Best Films Of 2003 First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point

Rome Review: Peter Greenaway's 'Goltzius And The Pelican Company' Dazzles & Numbs The Mind In Almost Equal Measure

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist November 14, 2012 at 11:20AM

Visually extraordinary, but narratively frustrating, "Goltzius and the Pelican Company," which showed here at the Rome Film Festival after premiering in The Netherlands, is every sumptuous inch a Peter Greenaway film. So those who are beguiled by the peculiar rhythms of his filmmaking -- which often give rise to a kind of tidal waxing and waning of the viewers' attention -- will be delighted by its richness, its erudition and its mischievousness. Detractors, however, may well be able to hold up this film as Exhibit A in the "too-clever-by-half" case against.
0
Goltzius And The Pelican Company

Visually extraordinary, but narratively frustrating, "Goltzius and the Pelican Company," which showed here at the Rome Film Festival after premiering in The Netherlands, is every sumptuous inch a Peter Greenaway film. So those who are beguiled by the peculiar rhythms of his filmmaking -- which often give rise to a kind of tidal waxing and waning of the viewers' attention -- will be delighted by its richness, its erudition and its mischievousness. Detractors, however, may well be able to hold up this film as Exhibit A in the "too-clever-by-half" case against. For our part, 'Goltzius' pulled us in and pushed us out repeatedly, and often exactly when we were in danger of being lulled into total insensibility, an indelibly beautiful or grotesque image would emblazon itself across the screen, and our yawns would be stopped in our throats. It's a trick you can get away with a few times over, but Greenaway does stretch his luck too far here, so that by the end it we were no longer responding to the tweaks of his fishing rod, and had simply drifted away. 

The story is inspired by a real man, 16th century Dutch engraver Hendrick Goltzius, whose legacy includes several erotic prints based on stories from the Bible. Here, Greenaway reinvents Goltzius (Ramsey Nasr, the Dutch Poet Laureate, no less)  as not just a painter and wannabe publisher, but the leader of a troupe of actors and artists -- The Pelican Company. Together they try to convince the local bigwig, the Margrave of Alsace (F Murray Abraham, in a masterful turn), to finance the purchase of a state-of-the-art printing press, the better for Goltzius to disseminate his biblical erotica. They do this by staging elaborate tableaux, usually featuring nudity and often full-on sex, for the lustful Margrave's entertainment -- mini-plays using Bible fables to explore six sexual taboos: fornication, incest, adultery, prostitution, 'seduction of the young' and necrophilia. Even within Margrave's famously liberal court, the plays cause religious and moral outrage, and as free speech and tolerance begin to crumble, some members of the troupe are condemned, some even killed. 

Goltzius And The Pelican Company

But none of that is really the point. Presented in self-consciously stagy format, the six sections separated by long discursive wordplay-heavy monologues from Goltzius, richly attired and often accompanied by Greenaway's now-trademark text on screen, the majority of the film unfolds in an obviously dressed set -- a huge, modern warehouse space which does not draw attention to itself, but is not hidden either. Couple this anachronism with the inclusion of seemingly 'drawn' elements, like columns and pillars, and even those parts that happen between the presentational interludes seem designed to communicate their artifice.  But what this approach sacrifices in terms of viewer engagement, Greenaway at least partially compensates for with visual exuberance. The painterly composition of the scenes, their rich colors and textures, the shafts of light, the alabaster flesh tones, the judicious use of subtle video effects, all come together on occasion to create images of such depth and detail that, as slow as the film is, you actually wouldn't mind spending even longer unpacking them. 

The intended audience of Greenaway devotees (because we don't think Greenaway's overly concerned here with recruiting new fans) is a small enough one, but the copious full-frontal nudity, the erections, the torture and the frequent sex mean this is highly unlikely to get much of a Stateside release at all, save on the safety of DVD. Which is a shame for those few people, because some of those intricate tableaux really do warrant watching on the big screen. However, a handful of startling images, no matter how original, do not a great movie make, and, while there are other positives (we really enjoyed the whistle-stop art history lectures that pepper the narrative), ultimately the film is just too damn long to be so ponderous. And we spend far too much of it in the company of Goltzius, he of the ludicrously over-egged Dutch accent; what is quirky, arch and knowing in the first hour, becomes grating, cartoonish and tiresome by the end of the second. 

A graph of our engagement with 'Goltzius' would probably show something of a seismic scribble of peaks and troughs that trail off to barely a heartbeat blip every few minutes, which is a shame, because with a little more judicious editing, the positives could easily have outweighed the negatives. As it is, the longer it goes on, the more unshakable the feeling that the film, though undoubtedly smarter than we are, thinks we're so dumb we need the lesson to be repeated and repeated and repeated. [C+]

This article is related to: Review, Peter Greenaway, Goltzius And The Pelican Company, Rome Film Festival


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates