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The Draughtsman's Contract1982

  • 3.9
Set in a richly exaggerated 17th-century England, Peter Greenaway's sumptuous brainteaser catapulted him to the forefront of international art cinema. Adorned with intricate wordplay, extravagant costumes and opulent photography, Greenaway's first narrative feature weaves a labyrinthine mystery around the maxim "draw what you see, not what you know." An aristocratic wife (Janet Suzman) commissions a young, cocksure draughtsman (Anthony Higgins) to sketch her husband's property while he is away. As the draughtsman becomes more entrenched in the devious schemings in this seemingly idyllic country home, curious details emerge in his drawings that may reveal a murder. Bolstered by a majestic score by then-newcomer Michael Nyman and stunning cinematography by Curtis Clark that suggests Greenaway has the elements at his beck and call, THE DRAUGHTSMAN'S CONTRACT is a luscious cinematic banquet for eye, ear and mind.

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2 members like this review

I am a great fan of Peter Greenaway, at least his feature length films. The first one I saw was The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. It was breathtaking in its visual beauty, it ethereal music, its surprising characters, and a plot that makes fun of itself. The Pillowbook is my all time favorite Greenaway. (Neither are on Fandor.) But this earlier Greenaway film has all the same wonderful characteristics. The counter tenor (male soprano) is to die for. The costumes and scenes are paintings. The plot is delectable. There is even a pissing imp! Try this film; it will be a new experience.

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top reviewer

Member Reviews (10)

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top reviewer

I am a great fan of Peter Greenaway, at least his feature length films. The first one I saw was The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. It was breathtaking in its visual beauty, it ethereal music, its surprising characters, and a plot that makes fun of itself. The Pillowbook is my all time favorite Greenaway. (Neither are on Fandor.) But this earlier Greenaway film has all the same wonderful characteristics. The counter tenor (male soprano) is to die for. The costumes and scenes are paintings. The plot is delectable. There is even a pissing imp! Try this film; it will be a new experience.

2 members like this review
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top reviewer

Peter Greenaway is a cunning , unrepentant re-arranger of reality. His films are living paintings. He is an utterly fearless surrealist, with a limitless vocabulary of images and sounds. In a headlong "operatic", luxurious, rococo parade of tableaux. I could compare Greenaway to other obviously ingenious directors, but he stands alone. I obviously appreciate his work. He is not trying to break any "box office" records, that's no secret, and that's the secret of his appeal.

1 member likes this review
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top reviewer

Sumptuously designed, the film is a visual treat. The sardonic tone satirizes aristocracy with sexual perversity like Salo: 100 Days of Sodom, though not so darkly. Its postmodern whimsy is reminiscent of that other British period piece, Jubilee. A soundtrack of thumping harpischords does well to set the viewer in a pompous and leisurely society of gossip and manicured lawns. It asserts the emptiness of this sort of living and so the movie progresses as a sort of fever dream. It reveals royalty as typically clownish. The characters behave as cartoons and are similarly two-dimensional. The film might lack gravity or a compelling plot line, but it seems essential to the subject that things are fundamentally vapid.

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top reviewer

A cocky young artist is hired by wealthy Mrs. Herbert to draw 12 drawings of her husband's estate in the 12 days he is expected to be away. In exchange, he will receive a small amount of money, room and board for the 12 days, and a sexual favour of his choosing from Mrs. Herbert each day. As the drawings proceed, it gradually becomes clear that details contained in the drawings may point to a crime. Everything about this film is superb. Greenaway creates an intricately elaborate version of 17th Century England with incredible costumes and production design. Michael Nyman creates an amazing score. The film is a convoluted puzzle of sorts, but there's more to it than just a mystery. Some elements remain unexplained, and it seems even better for it.

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top reviewer

Fascinating

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top reviewer

Witty ,clever and diabolical, outrageous costumes and wigs and a fine musical score make for delicious viewing that is most entertaining.

Excellent film with lots of visual flourishes and a puzzle to try to solve.

A costume drama setting for an intruiging mystery plot. Has the origins of many of the unique panoramic visuals which we now consider emblematic of Greenaway.

I didn't see it long enough

Peter Greenaway is a favorite of mine. His painterly films are always over-the-top and indescribably disturbing even in their well-meaningful pose. This one is a great introduction and a weird trip from beginning to end.