Picks and Pans Review: The Draughtsman's Contract

updated 05/09/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/09/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

What is this movie about? Only director Peter Greenaway, a veteran of British television, knows for sure, and he's not telling anybody, certainly not the audience. The curious thing is that it's so deftly acted it's still almost fun to watch, no matter how confusing—or simply absent—the plot is. A wealthy 17th-century woman, Janet {Nicholas and Alexandra) Suzman, hires a young, handsome and very arrogant draftsman, Anthony Higgins, to draw 12 pictures of her house and grounds while her husband, an offensive lout if ever there was one, is away. Part of the deal—it is written into the contract—is that the draftsman will sleep with the mistress of the estate, which he does with great gusto (the scenes of them coupling are hilarious—in one moment of passion he undoes her dress with a pair of scissors). Then her daughter gets into the act—she wants the draftsman the same way, and gets him. But there's something else afoot here. About two-thirds of the way into the movie, the draftsman appears to be involved in a plot to murder the master of the mansion. At least it seems that's what's going on. There are so many loose ends and crazy cul-de-sacs it's impossible to tell exactly what's happening. For instance, periodically a naked man appears in the background. Why? If this was meant to be an elaborate mystery, it certainly fails. Greenaway is, obviously, the guiltiest party around, since he made this too-eccentric film. (R)

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