Peter Greenaway’s Draughtsman’s Contract is one little odd piece of filmmaking. This is the director’s first picture and also the first picture of Greenaway’s that I have seen.
The film is set in England in the year 1694 and the costumes, locations, characters and the over all feel of the film are all over exaggerations of the period. Mr. Neville a somewhat renown Draughtsman is asked by a woman to draw pictures of her estate to give to her husband as a gift. A contract is written up between the two that includes times and places the draughtsman will be drawing, room and board, compensation, and of course the details of the Draughtsman and the wife’s private meetings which for lack of a better name are bone sessions. This is the basic plot of the picture; along the way there are hints at a murder mystery that are played here so subtle and in passing that it makes it the loudest thing of the picture. The film is not long and its final scene is the only moment where something of immense consequence is thrust upon the viewer. Fortunately before you have a chance to start caring the film cuts itself off and fades to black leaving you a little dizzy but happy that you took the trip.
From the opening scene I found it difficult to keep up with the dialogue. So sluggish I felt with the slick pace and lightening quick wit that within forty five seconds I opted to watch the picture with subtitles. After about twenty minutes of the film being captioned I felt a little more awake and able to keep up with the characters so I shut it off. The films dialogue is its strongest suit and for a second there you feel like you’re watching a film that is an accurate portrayal of history. It’s not until you stop thinking that this picture is smarter than you then you realize that it really isn’t. It feels like someone blindly poking in the dark and guessing what it must have been like. What saves the picture is that it is blind fun and you’ll find yourself just watching the actors play with each other and with the wordy dialogue. Most of scenes with dialogue are played out in one shot, a testament to the talented cast.
The film is also shot beautifully and the long one piece shots that make up the film are moving drawings themselves as you can tell the camera’s placement was very important to the director. Things like shadow, the contrasting of colours, and symmetry are obviously taken into painstaking consideration, which explains the long shots and blocking of the actors. Many of the shots in this picture should be framed and hung on my wall immediately.
One honourable mention must be given to the obscure character the “Statue”; A naked man who is seen in the background of many shots acting as various statues and sometimes just spying on the guests of the estate. He is never given proper explanation but he is a great distraction and fun to spot. You can probably cut him up and say he’s a representation of you, the viewer, or he’s a device to show how blind all the characters are or something along those lines. I, however, just like watching the guy because he’s surreal and weird.
Greenaway`s Draughtsmans Contract is overall a fun picture when taken not as seriously as it pretends it wants you to. Make sense?
If you do take it as seriously as it pretends to be taken than you will be sadly let down because the film is just pretending such to make you believe to take it seriously and that sir, is the farce of the picture. Pretending the picture is stupid is just to be left as the horse’s arse while everyone else is enjoying a picture that they pretend to be taken seriously only to fulfill the pictures needs but in actuality they are really looking at the picture from another angle, seeing it’s true colours and finally yes, sir, laughing at it in disgust and arousal. Sir.