Cinema and painting. Hedonism and symmetry.
If Godard said that “the cinema is truth twenty-four times per second”, Peter Greenaway seems to point towards eternity. His films do not seek to build a story along the footage of the film, but rather they create images, generate an aesthetic that seeps into the viewer once the credit titles start to roll. It is not surprising that, until he discovered the films of Ingmar Bergman and began to devote himself to the seventh art, his true fascination was painting, a profession he adored. In his more than half a century of profession as a director, Greenaway has experimented with all formats, denouncing those who considered films as a mere illustration of the text and the main visual composition at levels of formal refinement not successfully achieved until then.
A staunch advocate that painters such as Velázquez, Vermeer and Rembrandt were those who invented the language of cinema, Greenaway seeks inspiration among them by reinterpreting and adapting strategies with light, image textures or depth of field to a film with clear signs of authorship. His admiration for these, at the end of the 2000s, was at its highest point when he made a documentary, a biopic and a film series on the figure of Rembrandt and the painting The night watch. A work that Greenaway, accusing us of visual ignorance in being blinded by the text, analyses in detail revealing the conspiracy and the mystery hidden in the work of Rembrandt. This emblematic image, one of the most well-known paintings and viewed from the history of art, becomes the scene of a police investigation portrayed by the Dutch painter in strokes of oil paint and that Greenaway reveals to the viewer.
Intrigue surrounds all the films of the British director whom, although he defines himself outwardly as a supporter of the image versus the text, one can not deny his talent in his writing. His films plot stories that revolve around familiar themes: lust, murder, conspiracy. However, these occur in a strange universe where a minimal event can trigger a whole series of tragic circumstances: even a simple white swan.
Peter Greenaway is a director who does not hide his fetishes, but rather shows them eagerly almost like an exhibitionist. The camera in his films remains steady, capturing reality as if the director was painting the canvas while everything is happening, or, on the contrary, it moves with precision, in horizontal glances that seem to come onto the scene as if it were a theatre production. The director also likes symmetry, an obsessive fetishism that crosses all his work very clearly. Greenaway, who has now become a kind of an architect that reinterprets spaces already constructed, has space for perfect symmetry framed between columns, large marble staircases or statues.
However, if one feature stands out in the British director's films, it is his taste for hedonism. His films are full of characters led by sexuality worthy of the Greek satyrs, as well as plenty of sexual harassment and adultery, which sometimes refer directly to Greek mythology. But not all of Greenaway's pleasures are sexual. Food and alcohol are also temptations that main characters in films such as The cook, the thief, his wife & her lover’ or The belly of an architect must resist. This hedonism, sometimes aggressively violent and pornographic, leads to an ending in which Greenaway, now turned into a witness and judge, as Rembrandt concealed in The night watch, judges and determines the ending for the characters he himself created and the vices he gave them.