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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Miles and miles of painted darkness
One of the most famous paintings by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is "The Night Watch," a dark-hued painting filled with richly, colourfully dressed soldiers.

Well, no matter how brilliant they are, most paintings don't end up inspiring movies -- but Peter Greenaway does a pretty brilliant job with "Nightwatching," a semi-fictionalized version of how Rembrandt...
Published on 6 July 2009 by E. A Solinas

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Where's the gravitas?
Peter Greenaway - who happens to be one of my favourite film makers - has been on the slide since '8 1/2 Women' and that's a great shame; maybe his new multimedia projects will produce some stimulating works. NIGHTWATCHING has all the Greenaway hallmarks of old: lavish sets, exquisite lighting, quirky editing and camera movement, racy dialogue, but what is lacking is a...
Published on 14 Feb. 2011 by mancheeros


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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Miles and miles of painted darkness, 6 July 2009
By 
EA Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
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One of the most famous paintings by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is "The Night Watch," a dark-hued painting filled with richly, colourfully dressed soldiers.

Well, no matter how brilliant they are, most paintings don't end up inspiring movies -- but Peter Greenaway does a pretty brilliant job with "Nightwatching," a semi-fictionalized version of how Rembrandt came to paint it. The "hidden coded message" subplot is a bit awkward, but Greenaway's brilliance shines in how exquisite the movie is -- he wraps the movie in lush, light-soaked beauty, and Rembrandt becomes a very real person.

When his smart, independent wife Saskia (Eva Birthistle) gets pregnant, Rembrandt (Martin Freeman) is called upon to paint an Amsterdam Civil Guard -- he doesn't want to, but reluctantly agrees under the condition that he gets nine months ("(It takes that long to make a baby; it will certainly take that long to make a painting") and chooses the setup. Meanwhile, Saskia gives birth to a healthy baby but becomes ill herself (which frustrates her lusty husband).

In fact, Saskia becomes more sickly as the painting goes on -- and when she dies, Rembrandt's closeness to Titus' nursemaid Geertje (Jodhi May) and maidservant Hendrickje (Emily Holmes) becomes quite different. And his straightforward commission is complicated by the sudden death of a young officer, which reveals a seedy clot of sex, blackmail and corruption. He can't reveal these things in the open, but he can weave them into "The Night Watch."

Rich draperies, misty forests, torch-waving brigades in a darkened bedroom, high windows filled with pale sunlight, vast empty rooms, smoky kitchens, and the pale angelic face of a dead young woman -- "Nightwatching" is a bit like seeing a painting in motion. And Peter Greenaway gives the movie a very unique flavor -- most of the interior scenes look like they were filmed on theatrical stage sets, with limited camera angles and soft glowing light falling from above. It works gloriously.

In fact, the only directorial aspect that falls flat is when Rembrandt breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience about how he met and married Saskia. Come on, no talking to the camera!

Not that this movie is all ethereal beauty -- there's lots of bawdy, earthy humor, sensuality (Geertje posing nude for her lover) and a wicked sense of humour, such as Rembrandt lampooning various stuffy military portraits. But the tone becomes darker as the plot winds on, and we start to see what is up with the ethereal, broken teenage girl who wanders onto rooftops to talk to Rembrandt. Throughout it all, there's the feeling that Greenaway has turned dusty history into vibrant flesh-and-blood realism.

Freeman is absolutely amazing as Rembrandt -- selfish, passionate, loving, rebellious, foul-mouthed, volatile and vibrant, a man who lives every moment to the full. You might not actually like to know the guy, but Freeman does make him seem entirely real. And you end up liking him despite his weird mood swings -- as Saskia lies dying, he weeps pitifully into her lap; after she dies, he's seen tersely telling her "Bloody get up!" because he can't cope without her.

And Birthistle, May and Holmes make a solid trio of women of women who shared Rembrandt's bed and life. The first two are especially great: Birthistle particularly is smart, gutsy and Rembrandt's equal in every way, while May serves as a capable, down-to-earth seductress who winds her way into Rembrandt's affections after Saskia's death. And Natalie Press is eerily haunting as the tragic servant girl Marieke.

"Nightwatching" is literally pretty as a picture, but it also has a solid plot with plenty of period earthiness to keep it grounded. Peter Greenaway really outdid himself with this one.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Where's the gravitas?, 14 Feb. 2011
This review is from: Nightwatching [DVD] (DVD)
Peter Greenaway - who happens to be one of my favourite film makers - has been on the slide since '8 1/2 Women' and that's a great shame; maybe his new multimedia projects will produce some stimulating works. NIGHTWATCHING has all the Greenaway hallmarks of old: lavish sets, exquisite lighting, quirky editing and camera movement, racy dialogue, but what is lacking is a strong central performance. Sadly, Martin Freeman, who is excellent at light comedy, is not up to the job of bringing all the ingredients together; what he lacks is gravitas and the Rembrandt story of rollercoaster emotions requires a powerhouse actor at the centre of events to drive things forward. The supporting cast is also lacking; gone are the days when Greenaway's films would feature top British actors of the calibre of John Gielgud, Helen Mirren, Joan Plowright, Alan Howard, Janet Suzman, etc. At times I felt I was watching little more than an innovative exercise in mise-en-scene when I should have been watching a gripping emotional story enhanced by technical innovation. As it stands, NIGHTWATCHING is overlong and ultimately boring.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BEWARE: "Rembrandt's J'Accuse" NOT included on blu ray, 20 Jun. 2011
By 
Morten Verner Hansen (Copenhagen, Denmark) - See all my reviews
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Amazon has made a mistake in the "title".
"Nighthwatching" and "Rembrandt's J'Accuse" are two different movies. The documentary "Rembrandt's J'Accuse" is NOT included on this blu ray.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly impressed by Rembrandt, 13 Jan. 2011
By 
H. O'Sullivan (Co. Kerry, Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nightwatching [DVD] (DVD)
I have purchased Martin Freeman's back catalogue available on DVD (with the exception of the awful Hitchhiker's Guide - Sorry, Martin, definitely not YOUR fault!) and suppose I could therefore be considered somewhat biased with regards to my opinion of his work. However, with regards to Nightwatching I can only echo a previous reviewer's statement, because Martin Freeman was simply amazing as Rembrandt. Having mainly seen Martin in comedic series such as The Office and Hardware, I simply hadn't expected such a mind-blowing performance (No offence, Martin...) and was thoroughly impressed. The dialogue-heavy film with some very long scenes which don't appear to have been cut must have been a hard slog for the actors; compliments to all involved. As viewer, I, too, was pretty exhausted in the end because to fully appreciate the storyline and dialogue, and do this film the justice it deserves, I found that I had to really concentrate and allow myself become immersed in what was happening on screen.

Not a Rembrandt fan, I admit that I would never have bought this DVD if it wouldn't have had Martin Freeman in the starring role and I'm grateful to the casting crew for their little stroke of genius. As soon as I can take some time off, I will travel to Amsterdam to see the painting for myself. Since first watching the DVD, I have also loaned it to most of my friends who, too, enjoyed the film very much indeed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's beautiful, witty, and entertaining, but it's too long, 21 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Nightwatching [DVD] (DVD)
I'm a real Peter Greenaway fan - this just as an open statement of my partiality in advance.

Now, what I personally find best about this film is 1) the visuals, which are calmer and more puristic than those in most of Greenaway's films, whilst still continuing his technique of subjecting the style to the content (in this case, this means that most of the shots look like lost Rembrandt paintings, and this, let us admit, is simply a pleasure to look at). 2) The acting, which is sometimes emotional without ever becoming melodramatic, sometimes light and entertaining (I cannot quite agree with some people's opinion that this film debases Rembrandt, I think it shows him as a rounded human being, funny, serious, kind, silly, angry, sad, and all). 3) The investigation into the aesthetics of stage and painting, respectively, which is informed by Greenaway's playful yet sharp intellect.

What I find negative about the film is 1) the fact that the characters, apart from Rembrandt himself, are all two-dimensional, especially the women in Rembrandt's household, who really strike me as mere cardboard. Greenaway can do better then this. 2) The length, which is frankly irritating. The film should have ended on that beautifully delivered speech about how "The Night Watch" does not allow the people in the painting to strike a pose and, as it were, stage themselves, but gives that power to the painter instead. This nicely rounds off the conspiracy plot on a serious note - but then we are meant to go on and follow the "Rembrandt's downfall" plot, and that just doesn't work. Throughout the film, the biographical bits are the weaker of the two plot strands, and as soon as they are required to carry the film all by themselves, the whole things more or less collapses.

This also means that I'm not counting the conspiracy plot as a negative point. On the contrary. I think Greenaway puts forward his own personal interpretations of Rembrandt's masterpiece with a lot of tongue-in-cheek, and that's how I watch it and how I enjoy it.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Peter Greenaway's best film in quite some time., 24 May 2010
By 
Harry F. Korbl (Melbourne Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nightwatching [DVD] (DVD)
Having read E. A. Solinas' review; there is not much point in covering the same ground. I agree with everything therein.

Peter Greenaway's Nightwatching is as much a work of art as the painting that inspired it. The film is a moving canvas; the composition of each scene is brilliant. I haven't enjoyed a film on Art as much as this in quite a while. (I can recommend Milos Forman's 2006 film; Goya's Ghosts; beautifully shot with sumptuous sets, a little melodramatic but I enjoyed it equally).

My only complaint about this DVD release is that there are no subtitles; this is a very wordy film (nearly 2,500 lines of dialogue). For ageing ears it is not easy to catch everything that is being said.

One warning for those not familiar with Peter Greenaway's work; he has an unorthodox approach to what you could consider to be a historical film. Rembrant Van Rijn , the son of a miller, who through his paintbrush has risen above his working class status to associate with wealthy and powerful members of society. Greenaway's Rembrant maintains his earthy working class manner of speaking; "F..k this painting! F..k it! F..k! F..k! Bloody hell!." Which, in the context of the film's plot I did not find offensive. (Just don't expect him to talk like Charles Laughton in the 1936 film). I expect most of you will have seen some of Peter Greenaway's other works, so the coarse language should not come as a surprise.

This 2-DISC set includes the feature documentary "Rembrandt's J'accuse" (100 minutes); in which Director Peter Greenaway explores the theories and conspiracies behind Rembrandt's "The Night Watch". The Documentary in itself is as strong, if not stronger, as the film itself.

The DVD includes interviews with Peter Greenaway, Martin Freeman, Eva Birthistle and Jodhi May.

This is Peter Greenaway's best film in quite some time. If only it were available on Blu-ray. It would certainly enhance the enjoyment of what is a visually a sumptuous film.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clockwatching at Nightwatching, 5 Aug. 2010
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This review is from: Nightwatching [DVD] (DVD)
A good film but long, and one has to be something of an aficionado of Greenaway to enjoy this one. Beautifully lit and visually composed with an insistent Nymanesque score and a witty script this not only benefits from but demands several viewings from the Stoppard of cinema. I warmed to Martin Freeman as Rembrandt, a new actor to me, as the film went on for his combination of high art, low sex and comfortable domesticity. He was no more moral than those whose foibles he sought to expose, but he was certainly more likable. It is not really possible to follow the 33 people (and dog) in the eponymous painting and the mysteries that Greenaway seeks to solve, which make more sense in his documentary "Rembrandt's J'Accuse" than they do in this film - both are packaged together in the DVD. I would not say this is less demanding than his recent films, though it is certainly more accessible, and his best since the scandalously unavailable "Drowning by Numbers"
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sadly, Martin Freeman is a Poor Rembrandt...., 23 Mar. 2012
By 
Tim Kidner "Hucklebrook Hound" (Salisbury, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nightwatching [DVD] (DVD)
This long and beautiful film from Peter Greenaway about Dutch master Rembrandt has his hallmark as-art, framed set pieces, exquisitely lit and presented, as though they were the original masterpieces themselves. It is both breathtaking and immediately demands attention.

Though not a real follower of art or artists, I certainly can appreciate this film and as a photographer I can really understand the aesthetics and compositions. It's true to say that I didn't follow every nuance of every scene as it seemed to get very involved. Therefore, I won't go into the ins and outs myself, as I wouldn't want to mislead.

However, what I found lacking was Martin Freeman's lack of emotional depth and whilst he genuinely looks made for the part, he cannot convey the anger without simply shouting. He seemed to be able to only change his state of emotion by voice alone and even then, he lacks the finesse needed. And, whilst the virtue of having framed still art-pieces pleased the eye, a continuous chain of them, with the camera not moving (but characters in them, were) lead to a wish sometimes for more visual fluidity.

I also found the profane language jarring and unnecessary. I'm not saying that the Dutch didn't swear in the 17th century but here it is ugly and as strong as it can get. Shakespeare didn't use such words (I know he's earlier) and I'm sure alternatives could have been found. The quite strong sex scenes are more easily accepted for obvious reasons.

All along though, despite what I have just said, it was a privilege to be watching Nightwatching. I probably do need to see it again, to make sense of it all and hope that my pre-conceived prejudices against Mr Freeman don't spoil this too much.

UPDATE: I did get to see Nightwatching again, when it was on Sky Arts recently. I found the whole experience rather smoother and more enjoyable and Martin Freeman seemed more suited to the role. Whether that was because there was almost too much to take in the first time or whether knowing of its weaker elements and possibly lowering expectations, I don't know. But, it does show that the film is enhanced by a second viewing, at least for me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars stunning, 6 Jun. 2010
By 
Mr. Jonathan Hawley (GB) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nightwatching [DVD] (DVD)
This is a Greenaway film. Lighting stunning story fantastic the whole film is just fantatstic.
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2.0 out of 5 stars What no subtitles!, 28 Nov. 2012
By 
B. Welch "Bryan Welch" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nightwatching [DVD] (DVD)
The sound on the Axiom version is faint and I have had to turn the volume up to 40 on my TV to catch the dialogue. I too was disappointed by the lack of subtitles - surprising when so many public film financing bodies have funded it that this inclusive aspect is missing. As for the subject and style - typical Greenaway. Maybe I have just seen to many of his films!
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Nightwatching [DVD]
Nightwatching [DVD] by Peter Greenaway (DVD - 2010)
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