The Baby of Macon DVD
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Directed by Peter Greenaway
Produced in 1993
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Greenaway’s most confrontational, sexually explicit and graphically violent film, this study of the commodification of religion is also his most visually ravishing, says Michael Brooke.
Between The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) and Prospero’s Books (1991), Peter Greenaway led a charmed life, producing a series of uncompromisingly distinctive features aimed squarely at the arthouse market, but which nonetheless enjoyed a high media profile and a surprising amount of commercial success. This came to an abrupt halt in 1993 when The Baby of Mâcon opened to a largely negative reception (one critic compared it with Pasolini’s Salò, not unfairly, but he didn’t mean it as a compliment), and although the film had a few enthusiastic champions even at the time, it disappeared from cinemas so quickly that word of mouth had little effect, and it’s been absurdly hard to see ever since.
But although it’s easily Greenaway’s most confrontational, sexually explicit and graphically violent film (parts of it make The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover look like CBeebies), none of this is gratuitous: even the most extreme material is there to make serious points about the commodification of religion and the human body and man’s infinite corruptibility both individually and institutionally that are just as resonant today.
Set in central France in 1659, the narrative revolves around a full-length performance of a traditional morality play about the cynical exploitation of a seemingly miraculous birth, first by the baby’s adult sister (she claims to be its mother, and herself to be a latterday Virgin Mary), and then by the Church, peddling the child’s bodily fluids as holy relics. Meanwhile, Greenaway deliberately blurs the distinction between performers and audience to the point when it becomes increasingly hard to tell whether what’s happening in front of us is faked or all too horribly real, before removing the division altogether for a climax that remains as shocking now as it was two decades ago.
With a starry cast (Julia Ormond, Ralph Fiennes, a then unknown Jessica Hynes) and regular Greenaway collaborators Sacha Vierny (cinematographer), Ben van Os and Jan Roelfs (designers) on board, it’s one of the most visually ravishing of all Greenaway’s films – the aestheticising of atrocity being, of course, one of the director’s key themes.
Michael Brooke on 30th April 2012
Author of 135 reviews
A sumptuously filmed, highly controversial film featuring mass rape and dismemberment, an assault on religion and superstitious ritual, Peter Greenaway's The Baby of Macon is an extremely powerful expose of the forces of lust, greed and revenge in 17th century France. Ralph Fiennes and Julia Ormond star.
A grotesque woman gives birth to a beautiful child, and the event is deemed a miracle. The mystical child is then exploited by his guardian (Ormond) and the church. The guardian seduces a Bishop's son (Fiennes) and the child orders a cow to kill him with its horns. The Bishop then suggests a severe punishment for the woman...
Length: 117 mins
Cat No: DAVID2053
Format: DVD Colour