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With: Anthony Higgins, Janet Suzman, Anne-Louise Lambert, Hugh Fraser, Neil Cunningham, Dave Hill, David Gant, David Meyer, Tony Meyer, Nicolas Amer, Suzan Crowley, Lynda La Plante, Michael Feast, Alastair Cummings, Steve Ubels, Ben Kirby, Sylvia Rotter, Kate Doherty, David Joss Buckley, Michael Carter, Vivienne Chandler, Geoffrey Larder, Harry Van Engel, George Miller
Written by: Peter Greenaway
Directed by: Peter Greenaway
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 108
Date: 09/01/1982

The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Drawing Lots

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Peter Greenaway's second feature, after the epic experimental film The Falls (1980), finds a satisfying balance between narrative and Greenaway's peculiar vision, and finishes as one of his best and most entertaining films. In 17th Century England, the title draughtsman, Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), agrees to make 12 drawings of the Herbert estate. Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) commissions the drawings while her husband is away and pays for them with sexual favors. The idea allows Greenaway to structure the film the way he usually likes, in blocks, with Mr. Neville working on a specific angle of the house at a specific time each day (so that the light remains about the same). But despite his orders to keep these areas clear, each drawing turns up a slight oddity. When finished, the pictures reveal clues as to the mysterious disappearance -- and perhaps murder -- of the husband. Greenaway's unique sense of humor comes through clearly here, created by the tension between the cocky young draughtsman and the stuffy aristocrats who get in his way. When one old gent refuses to vacate Mr. Neville's view, the artist demands that the man return each day at the same time, wearing the same clothes and standing in the same place. Sometimes Greenaway reaches too far, as when he shows images of a human statue slinking about the grounds, apparently unnoticed by the residents. As far as sex and violence go, this is much tamer than Greenaway's later, more notorious The Cook the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1990), but it shows the director at his best and most playful, and it's a strange delight.

DVD Details: Zeitgeist Films has released this film on an excellent new, 2008 DVD, replacing Fox Lorber's shabby 1999 release. The new transfer has been restored, created from HD elements. Greenaway provides a commentary and video introduction, and we also get an interview with composer Michael Nyman, behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, stills, optional subtitles and other stuff. Zeitgeist has also released a new DVD of Greenaway's subsequent film, A Zed & TwoNoughts (1985).

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