The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 1. The Moab Story (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Tulse Luper Suitcases is an ambitious multi-media project from auteur Peter Greenaway, which essentially summarizes and comments on the entire 20th century by creating an alternate parallel version of it, and following the life of one man named Tulse Luper, who lived through it. He was born in 1911 and disappeared in 1989, but may still be alive in that parallel plane of existence. Here is Tulse's apocryphal biography from a website which is part of the project.  When the project is completed, it will encompass three films, a TV series, and many CDs, DVDs, books, and web sites. Probably some trading cards and commemorative plates, too, for all I know, and maybe even a low-carb Tulse Luper Diet. Here is a page dedicated to the project, which has links to trailers, flash animations, and more. It even tells you what is inside each of the 92 Tulse Luper Suitcases. Here is the official site. If any of that helps you figure out what the hell is going on here, be sure to let the rest of us know.

I sure as hell don't know what is going on here.

Greenaway has all but abandoned any sense of traditional narrative in this project, but it does seem that the mysterious Mr Luper made an effort to eradicate all records of his having lived, thus leaving us to reconstruct his life from clues hidden in the aforementioned 92 suitcases which he deposited in various places around the world. Why 92? Well, you big silly, because 92 is the atomic number of Uranium! I'll thank you not to ask any more foolish questions, my good man! Uranium, you see, is the key to the century, so the tale must be woven by a 92-thread loom. (BARITONE VOICE-OVER: Yes, 92, it's not just for counting suitcases anymore!) There are also 92 objects of special importance in human existence, 92 characters in the story, and maybe some other 92-centric bric-a-brac that I'm forgetting. A data screen, looking like a PowerPoint slide, appears in the film from time to time, keeping us posted about the official number for a new character, suitcase, or critical object. (E.g., Suitcase #38: Water.) To maintain the numeric symmetry, there will eventually be 92 DVDs in the project, or so goes the current claim.

The three films will undoubtedly contain about as much content as we would normally expect in ten films, because the screen always seems to have much more going on than a simple image accompanied by sound. There are overlays, superimpositions, dissolve effects, additional frames appearing inside the screen, more frames within those frames, scoreboards, grids, split screens, fancy calligraphy, overlapping sound, characters appearing from nowhere to explain what other characters are doing, and so forth. Some of these things seem to add weight to the story, while others just seem aesthetically right to Mr. Greenway, I suppose. The film does look and sound beautiful. His aesthetic sense is too cluttered for my taste, but all that clutter has always, in one way or another, been part of his distinctive oeuvre, and Greenaway is possibly the most artistic of all filmmakers.

Cutting to the chase ...

Is the film good? Yes, I believe so. It is very good in many ways, and it is certainly original and ambitious. It is also completely non-commercial. It is even too arty to attract paying customers to the arthouse. I don't know of anyone but Peter Greenaway who could raise more than ten million dollars in public funds to underwrite a project with no hope of recapturing any but the tiniest portion of it. The European national film boards treat Greenaway's works as art treasures, and seem happy to subsidize them.

Is it something I enjoyed watching? Sometimes. My reactions ranged from being amused to being impressed to thinking "get on with it!" I did watch some sections of the film a second time, pausing to read the omnipresent verbiage, or to freeze a particularly striking image.

Do I want to see more of the films and other elements of this project? Not on your life. Peter Greenaway seems to live entirely in his own world, and it is not a world that particularly interests me. On the other hand, I've probably said the same thing about all of his movies, but I always seem to come back for the next one.


  • Not available on Region 1 DVD. Here is the edition from the Netherlands (in English), as sold from an American importer. (Click on the image for the link.)

The Tulse Luper Suitcases DVD Widescreen Peter Greenaway (2003)



Prolific. Just about every character gets naked at one time or another.

The main stars:

  • JJ Feild, as Tulse, is stripped naked and his penis is covered with honey. This is shown in close-up and longer shots.

  • Caroline Dhavernas does five nude scenes, including various full frontal and rear shots in long and medium distance.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major English language reviews online.

  • There is one online summary which has done a truly excellent job of distilling this film, as well as fixing its place in Greenaway's career. Rather than repeat Richard Scheib's points, I am suggesting that you use his web site for a reference if you are interested in this project, or if you would like a quick introduction to the history of Peter Greenaway's filmmaking. Although the site contains a couple of minor factual errors (Tulse Luper was born in 1911, not 1921, e.g.), and you may find a typo here and there, it is still the best and clearest summary available.

The People Vote ...

  • According to IMDb, it has only played commercially on 17 screens in Italy, and grossed about $40,000.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C+, a very brilliant achievement, but aloof and emotionally distant. Peter Greenaway doesn't seem to care whether his work connects with us, and this particular work will connect only with a very tiny audience. It is too arty even for the arthouse.

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