Peter Greenaway, the noted British director behind such films as A Zed and Two Noughts and The Draughtsman’s Contract visited the Czech Republic this week to promote the Czech release of his film Nightwatching.
The Welsh-born director Peter Greenaway is unquestionably an auteur film-maker. His latest film Nightwatching, a Welsh-Polish-Dutch co-production, premiered in the Czech Republic this week, and the director himself visited the country for only the second time in his life. Nightwatching is a story very close to the director’s heart having initially been trained as a painter. Indeed, Greenaway’s films are very often framed and lit as “living canvasses” reflecting the director’s view of the motion picture experience. But this film takes matters a step further with Greenaway himself claiming to have uncovered a murder depicted in one of 17th century painter Rembrandt’s works – The Night Watch. The film covers Rembrandt’s life, looking at the dark and sordid world that the painter lived in, and also looks into the controversy surrounding the painting – which Greenaway speculates was actually a subtle subversion rather than a celebration of the Dutch militia that it depicted.
“Well, first of all, I have to come clean. I know practically zero about contemporary Czech cinema. You do not travel very well. The chances of seeing a Czech film in Amsterdam where I now live are very, very remote. Your cinema history in this country has been very profound – but we are talking thirty, forty years ago now.”
Expanding on this, I mentioned the often heard critique that contemporary Czech film is simply not honest about the country’s state of mind and experiences. Mr Greenaway replied how he viewed the idea of honesty in film:
“I don’t know what honesty is – do you? We are highly subjective people. I’ve just come out of making a huge project called ‘The Tulse Luper Suitcases’ which is in some curious way about this proposition. And I would argue that there is no such thing as history, only historians.”
“I am absolutely convinced that the history of this country must be an absolute palimpsest of this activity. How you are obliged to keep re-writing your history books, so every decade your history books become different. And maybe that is particularly relevant to your 20th century history here – and I think that it is also profoundly true that we are really not interested in history, we are interested in mythology. And certainly in this country, mythology has become very large in how you see yourselves.”
Nightwatching goes on general release in the Czech Republic on Monday.
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