Goltzius and the Pelican Company (SIFF 2013)

I really had no idea what to expect from this film. I attended the press screening as a matter of course, especially since the filmmaker, Peter Greenaway, is one of the honored guests at SIFF this year. Although I knew the story centered around erotic dramatizations of Old Testament stories, I had no idea how sexually explicit this film would be.

In an attempt to get in at the front of the new printing and publishing markets, Hendrick Goltzius travels with his writing and performing troupe to meet with a forward-thinking wealthy nobleman who is known for his support of free speech. He entices the nobleman to support his new business endeavour by offering to act out the Old Testament sexual taboos that he plans to publish with the printing press. As each successive taboo is acted out, the nobleman, his court, and his religious leaders become more and more uncomfortable, and attempt to find ways to justify their actions and find redemption for their participation. However, these justifications end up leading to more scandal and debauchery.

Goltzius and the Pelican Company is truly a sumptuous visual treat. Stunning, vibrant colors, intricate layered images, and kaleidoscopic views provide a feast for the eyes. But the content of these images may be shocking (and likely offensive) to some viewers. In the end, is this a sexually explicit drama or pornography that is culturally informed? Is there even a difference? You will have to decide that for yourself.

Provided Film Synopsis
At 70 years old, iconoclast Peter Greenaway has lost none of his contrarian spirit or unwavering commitment to visually compelling film. His latest work is profoundly visual, thought provoking, decadent, and awash in sexually provocative imagery.

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 (F. Murray 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 Baptist and Salome).

Greenaway again stakes his claim as one of cinema's preeminent stylists, lending a painterly quality to the screen that leads the eye artfully into each scene. An unrelenting provocateur, Greenaway does not fail to include various forms of erotic antics, erections, and simulated intercourse in this rowdy cultural collage. The final product is unforgettable, as both a journey through Goltzius' artistic conflict with the powers that be, and as a venue for Greenaway's infamous directorial psyche.

Movie Details

  • Directed By:

    • Peter Greenaway
  • Cast Members:

    • Alba Rohrwacher
    • F. Murray Abraham
    • Halina Reijn
    • Ramsey Nasr
    • Vincent Riota
  • Countries:

    • UK
  • Languages:

    • Dutch
    • English
    • French
  • Genres:

    • Black Comedy
    • Drama
    • Erotic