The Baby Of Macon

Peter Greenaway’s most controversial feature (1993, 122 min.), in part because it’s so unrelievedly unpleasant without ever actually seeming atypical of his work. Set in France during the mid-17th century, it centers on the birth of a baby boy that’s mythologized for various ends, initially because it marks the end of childlessness in a city. The child’s older sister (Julia Ormond), a virgin, claims to be his mother; when she attempts to seduce the bishop’s son (Ralph Fiennes), he’s gored to death by a cow. Ultimately the baby is dismembered, and the sister is raped to death by 217 soldiers, each one pardoned in advance by the church. This being a Greenaway film, no character is shown sympathetically, the action is lushly and rather beautifully filmed (by Sacha Vierny) on a single set, and the whole thing is staged as a play within the film. I watched it to the end out of a sense of duty, not with pleasure or any hope of edification. (JR)

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