Peter Greenaway gets younger with every film,” begins Screen‘s Lee Marshall. “In fact his latest, a self-consciously stagey period drama about a 16th century Dutch printer and his traveling company of artisans and actors, feels like it was made by a student theater director in the 1980s, out to shock us with his sexual frankness and dazzle us with his erudition. Far less successful in its meld of drama, art history lecturing and digital jiggery-pokery than the director’s 2007 Rembrandt excursus Nightwatching, Goltzius and the Pelican Company is a return to The Draughtsman’s Contract territory, 30 years on—but with neither that first feature’s freshness, nor the coherent dramatic structure that lurked behind its incoherent narrative.”

Hendrick Goltzius‘s “legacy includes several erotic prints based on stories from the Bible,” explains Jessica Kiang at the Playlist. “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. But none of that is really the point…. 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.”

Peter Greenaway

Boyd van Hoeij in Variety: “Ben Zuydwijk’s production design is breathtaking in its inventiveness and juxtaposition of different influences, such as a scene in which the company’s playwright, Boethius (Giulio Berruti), is locked in a cage suspended above water; the various set elements suggest an Ikea shopping spree by way of Giambattista Piranesi.”

“Bible scholars and art historians will likely take issue with some of the film’s more outlandish interpretations, but the ample displays of lewd behavior are often both entertaining and thought-provoking, lending a whole new decadent flavor to the works of Baroque masters such as Albrecht Dürer and Cornelis van Haarlem.” Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter: “Indeed, one can come away from Goltzius thinking that Northern Europe in the late 1500’s was very much like Ibiza during the month of August… Despite all the outré antics, erections and bouts of simulated intercourse, Greenaway’s ornamented imagery is very far from dirty, and regular cinematographer Reinier van Brummelen creates some lovely visual arrangements as the camera glides back and forth throughout the immense Croatian warehouse where the project was shot. Also helping move things along is the constant tongue-in-cheek narration of Goltzius himself, which Nasr recites with a Dutch accent worthy of the first Die Hard movie—though this seems hardly out of place in such a rowdy cultural collage.”

Update, 11/15: From the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks: “Holding court in the lobby of his Rome hotel, Greenaway explains that Goltzius eventually made so much money from his printing press that he could afford to give up the day job and spend his last 10 years as a painter. ‘And I suppose that’s also my ambition,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to be a filmmaker. ( I think painting is far more exciting and profound. It’s always at the back of my mind—let’s give up this silly business of filmmaking and concentrate on something more satisfying and worthwhile.’ In the meantime here he is, a director for his sins.” Still: “He seems happy and engaged, with a whole raft of projects (films, paintings, installations) at various stages of development. But he will have to get a move on. At 80, he says, he plans to kill himself. I can’t believe he’s serious; I bet he chickens out. ‘Well, OK,’ he concedes. ‘I admit that death is not just about you, it’s also about the people who love you. I have a child of 11 and a child of eight and they’re not going to want Daddy to disappear. But I am seriously thinking about it and I could do it in Holland.’”

Update, 11/19: Interviewing Greenaway in Rome, Jessica Kiang has come away with “the impression of someone who is perfectly content to elicit a somewhat schizophrenic reaction, as long as he gets a reaction. A chatty, warm man with an inescapable, apparently insatiable intellectual curiosity, our conversation ranged from Goltzius to the state of modern cinema to Sergei Eisenstein and back again, and left us, as often do his films, dazzled, but a bit dazed.”

Update, 1/2: Via Christopher Bourne:

Update, 1/19: This is “a moving, breathing entity that’s intelligent and entertaining,” finds Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. “This is the second entry in Greenaway’s film series titled Dutch Masters (the first being the 2007 film Nightwatching). In 2016, we will see the next entry, focusing on Hieronymous Bosch, which is scheduled to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Bosch’s death. Lofty and complicated, baffling and beautiful, Greenaway hasn’t lost his edge and Goltzius and the Pelican Company proves he is in top form.”

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