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Film / The Draughtsman's Contract

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The Draughtsman's Contract is a 1982 film written and directed by Peter Greenaway.

In 1694 England, cocky artist Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins) is approached by Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman), the wife of a wealthy landowner, to make a set of 12 drawings of her husband's estate while he is away. Mr. Neville agrees, and the two draw up the eponymous contract with the help of Mr. Noyes (Neil Cunningham), Mr. Herbert's agent. Also at the estate are Mr. and Mrs. Herbert's daughter and son-in-law, Mrs. (Anne Louise Lambert) and Mr. Talmann (Hugh Fraser), as well as a number of other characters.

Provides examples of:

  • 13 Is Unlucky: When Mr. Neville returns to the estate to make a thirteenth drawing, he is murdered.
  • Butt-Monkey: Mr. Talmann. While Mr. Neville is the only one to repeatedly make fun of him to his face, Mrs. Talmann points out to her husband that the others do it behind his back during a quarrel with him.
  • Chosen Conception Partner: Mrs. Talmann reveals to Mr. Neville after the fact that her reason for pursuing sexual relations with him was to get pregnant, her husband not being of any use in that matter.
  • Costume Drama: All characters wear very elaborate historical costumes with tons of frills and lace.
  • Creepy Twins: The identical Poulenc brothers, who wear heavy Uncanny Valley Makeup and finish each other's sentences, seem to be there just to add to the movie's weird atmosphere.
  • Double Entendre: The dialogue contains numerous sexual innuendos and euphemisms, particularly by Mr. Neville.
  • Downer Ending: Mr. Neville ends up brutally killed by a mob, his drawings are destroyed and whoever killed Mr. Herbert remains mysterious and still at large.
  • Eye Scream: The mob led by Mr. Talmann burn out Mr. Neville's eyes before they beat him to death.
  • Guyliner: Some male characters wear makeup, which is Truth in Television for the era.
  • Heir Club for Men: It is mentioned that Mr. Herbert doesn't believe in women owning property, leading to uncertainty as to what will become of his inheritance unless his daughter Mrs. Talmann has a son.
  • Jerkass: Mr. Talmann is not a nice person, least of all to Mr. Neville.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: In-universe example. Mr. Neville insists on drawing everything exactly as he sees it, and therefore demands that nothing be moved, altered, or disturbed to preserve continuity. When items start showing up in places they should not be in his drawings (such as a ladder leaning against a wall and an abandoned pair of boots in a field), characters start suspecting that something is amiss.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: The Talmanns, who are in dire need of an heir, are childless.
  • Living Statue: There's a living statue—or possibly a man in disguise as a statue, it's not made clear—who moves around the estate and seems to eavesdrop on the characters' conversations. Only a couple of characters ever seem to notice, his presence is never explained, and it never affects the plot.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Mr. Talmann is heavily implied to be impotent.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: In the scene where Mr. Neville is confronted by an ominous mob wearing black velvet masks.
  • Murder Mystery: Once the dead body of Mr. Herbert is found.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Mr. Talmann and his friends confront Mr. Neville wearing masks. Mr. Neville identifies them so quickly they may as well not even have bothered, and points out to Mr. Talmann that his accent gives him away.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: Mr. van Hoyten speaking Dutch is left completely untranslated.
  • Rule of Symbolism: In-universe, Mrs. Herbert points out the significance of pomegranates in Classical Mythology when Mr. Neville brings her some.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Mr. Neville is killed, his drawings are destroyed, and he never even found out who killed Mr. Herbert.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: The characters constantly use their sharp wits to lob thinly-veiled insults at each other, except for Mr. Talmann, who is neither capable of nor interested in such subtlety when antagonizing others.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Mrs. Herbert has an affair with Mr. Neville, at his insistence. So does Mrs. Talmann, at her insistence. Both Mrs. Herbert and Mrs. Talmann are portrayed, if not in an outright positive light, at least in a non-negative one owing to the flaws of their respective husbands; Mr. Talmann is a complete jerkass, as well as implied to be impotent, and what little we see of Mr. Herbert establishes him as kind of a dick, especially to his wife.
  • Toilet Humor: The conversation in the opening scene is filled with it.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Mr. Noyes for Mrs. Herbert.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Peter Greenaway commented in the DVD bonus features that he did not want to explain the plot and its ending within the film, feeling that the audience would understand what had happened. Many people disagree.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out for certain who killed Mr. Herbert.