Synopsis by Mark Deming
Filmmaker Peter Greenaway explored the life and work of the celebrated Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn in his 2007 drama Nightwatching, and he returns to this theme in the documentary Rembrandt's J'Accuse, in which he presents an in-depth analysis of one of Rembrandt's best-known paintings, 1642's "The Night Watch." With Greenaway offering an onscreen narration through much of the film, the director presents an illustrated lecture on the artist, the painting, and the many circumstances behind it -- the culture and politics of Holland in the 17th century, the real-life figures depicted in the painting (among them Capt. Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburgh), the controversy that surrounded these men, and the subtle suggestions Rembrandt's representation advanced -- and why some believe backlash over "The Night Watch" brought Rembrandt's career to a premature end. In addition to paintings and text, Greenaway also features several actors who are "interviewed" as key figures in the story: Martin Freeman appears as Rembrandt (as he did in Nightwatching), Eva Birthistle portrays his wife, Saskia, and Emily Holmes and Jodhi May impersonate their household servants. Rembrandt's J'Accuse was an official selection at Toronto's 2009 Hot Docs Film Festival.
analysis/analyst [study], artist, painting, re-enactment