Goltzius and the Pelican Company: Rome Review

Greenaway Still - H 2012

Greenaway Still - H 2012

A lusty and lively neo-Baroque creation that will arouse Greenaway fans but probably baffle general audiences.

Peter Greenaway's latest opus features F. Murray Abraham alongside a multinational cast.

ROME -- Director Peter Greenaway offers up another thickly layered, and this time heavily licentious, crash course in revisionist art history with his latest neo-Baroque creation, Goltzius and the Pelican Company.

Composed of several vibrantly assembled tableaux vivants, this multiform study of the great 16th century Dutch printmaker, painter and (as some may believe after seeing this movie) pornographer, is very much in line with the English auteur’s recent wave of installations and video works, which means it should play best to ardent followers and other such culture vultures. Despite an inspired lead performance by F. Murray Abraham, there is also way too much on-screen hanky-panky to give Goltzius broad Stateside exposure, at least of the theatrical kind.

Expanding on a format developed in such literary minded works as the Shakespeare adaptation Prospero’s Books and the Rembrandt portrait, Nightwatching, the movie is much less of a narrative than an assembly of dense visual compositions, with actors performing inside elaborate set-pieces that are amped up by lots of post-production effects, including written words that appear over the images themselves. This can make for a viewing experience that’s often exhausting and sometimes enervating, although the action is laced with enough energy and humor to compensate for the excess imagery and rather excessive 2-hour-plus running time.

Set in the year 1590, the story follows Hendrick Goltzius (Ramsey Nasr) and his crew of writers, workers and performers as they arrive in Colmar at the palace of a rich and powerful margrave (Abraham), who the engraver hopes will finance a printing press he can use to publish illustrated versions of the Old Testament and the works of Ovid. In order to seal the deal, Goltzius needs to titillate the nobleman and his court with live renditions of what he refers to as the “Six Sexual Taboos,” beginning with Adam and Eve’s original sin and covering such transgressions as incest (via the Genesis passages on Lot and his daughters), prostitution (through the tale of Samson and Delilah) and necrophilia (in the story of St. John the Baptiste and Salome).

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.

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, with the printmaker’s troupe — including playwright Thomas Boethius (Giulio Berruti) and his mistress, Adaela (dancer Kate Moran) — engaging in plenty of foul behavior and showcasing their private parts to no apparent end. This winds up simultaneously arousing and frustrating the margrave, who makes things increasingly dangerous, sometimes tortuously so, for the visiting band of artists. Luckily, when things get really bad, Abraham's character can always bury his head in the breasts of his former milkmaid (Lisette Malidor).

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.

Production companies: Kasander Film Company, Film & Music Entertainment, CDP, MP Film Production

Cast: F. Murray Abraham, Ramsey Nasr, Kate Moran, Giulio Berruti, Anne Louise Hassing

Director, screenwriter: Peter Greenaway

Producer: Kees Kasander

Director of photography: Reinier van Brummelen

Production designer: Ben Zuydwijk

Music: Marco Robino

Costume designers: Marrit van der Burgt, Blanka Budak

Editor: Elmer Leupen

Sales: Bankside Films

No rating, 127 minutes