Part alt–art-history lesson and part pilot for CSI: The Louvre, Peter Greenaway’s deconstruction of Rembrandt’s 1642 painting The Night Watch contends that the work is—after the Mona Lisa, Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—the fourth best-known artwork in the world. He also suggests that the Dutch master had, within the dense framework of this ensemble portrait, embedded clues regarding…a murder. [Dum-dum dum!] Greenaway himself pops up in small squares within the movie’s frame to point out how details like a phallic spear, multiple light sources and the use of Christian allegory all point to a homicidal cover-up. The filmmaker once studied to become a painter himself; apparently, he’s harbored dreams of being an amateur sleuth as well.
Greenaway has delved into this subject before with his 2007 true-crime biopic Nightwatching, much of which gets trotted out here in the form of exhibits for we, the jury. The wholesale regurgitation of that earlier feature makes this documentary feel more like a companion piece than a stand-alone investigation, though the film’s conspiracy theories are still compelling. That is, when the director isn’t hectoring viewers with his plummy baritone, moaning about society’s visual illiteracy (inarguable) and how this has led to today’s impoverished cinema (highly debatable). Tell it to John Berger, Pete.