The Pillow Book

One of the most accomplished chapters in Peter Greenaway’s quest to turn movies into books, this may be the writer-director’s metaphorical autobiography. Atypical for Greenaway in its emphasis on drama and linear narrative, this audacious and seemlessly successful formal experiment provides a revealing glimpse into the emotions of a filmmaker who usually keeps a vast intellectual distance from his material. The story chronicles a woman’s ambition to redress her father’s exploitive relationship with his publisher and establish herself as a writer–and both endeavors are understood by Greenaway in psychoanalytic terms to be variations on the same theme. The filmmaker’s picture-in-picture techniques merge with the painstaking production and sound design, editing, and use of subtitles–as important for how they look as for what they say–to add several dimensions to the medium of cinema. The result is a lucid exposition of Greenaway’s idiosyncratic ideas about transcending the medium and a compelling narrative with empathic characters that reveals the sexual nature of something that’s not often associated directly with sexuality–the act of writing. In this respect the movie shows up Crash, which fails to make a similar case for car accidents. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, July 4 through 10. –Lisa Alspector

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): flim still.