Tuesday, July 12, 2011

800. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

Running Time: 124 minutes
Directed By: Peter Greenaway
Written By: Peter Greenaway
Main Cast: Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Alan Howard


Another film that graces my 120 strong list of unfound films, pops up on the streaming portion of Netflix and I take the opportunity to see it before it's too late. "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" has a title that attracted me, a synopsis that detracted me and a final result that left me hungry for more.

The titular cook is Richard Borst (Bohinger), a french chef who prides himself on specializing in delicacies and experimenting in the culinary rarities. However, he is not our main character, that role is reserved for the thief, Albert Spica (Gambon), a mobster, complete with lackeys and henchmen and the man who owns the restaurant where Borst creates his meals. Spica is a ruthless man, who will not only make you pay back your outstanding debts, but humiliate you in the process. This is shown early on when he urinates on a debtor, preceded by force feeding him feces. Albert is married to the beautiful, high-faulting Georgina (Mirren)...or the wife. She is abused and ridiculed constantly by Albert and when his ignorance of her reaches an all-time high, she has no choice but to seek outside companionship. Enter the lover, Michael (Howard), a regular patron of the Spica owned restaurant (titled Le Hollandais) and frequent eyeballer of Georgina. Sneaking off to the bathroom, night after night, to enjoy a delicacy of her own, Georgina and Michael engage in an affair, right under Albert's nose. At first, Albert isn't suspicious, but that doesn't mean he won't eventually find out about his wife's extra-marital affairs.


When I read the Wikipedia synopsis for "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover", I read a line about "scatological, violent and nude scenes" and was repelled. However, it actually wasn't that bad, as the sex scenes were well done and the scenes involving the use of fecal matter and urine were quick and came right at the beginning and never came again. The film is set up kind of like a play. The sets are very hollow, the script is very dialogue driven and the characters are few. If a film is strong in dialogue and light on action, then it's my kind of film and "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" is just that. There are also many scenes, notably the sex scenes and the flirtatious scenes between Georgina and Michael, where dialogue is totally forgotten and it was the music and gestures that spoke to me.

When the film began, I was almost immediately turned off. It seemed like it was going to be a very flashy, in your face sort of film. And while it kind of is, in a way, it really isn't either. The film doesn't hold a lot back and the sets are very colorful, but it also looms, giving things time to build and giving the viewer a chance to take in the characters. I'm still not really sure what the colors stood for. There was red in the main dining room of the restaurant, white in the bathroom, green in the kitchen and blue on the streets. I'm sure there was some sort of symbolism being evoked here, but what it all meant was lost on me. There was apparently a very substantial political statement being made as well, as Greenaway supposedly made this film to counteract Margaret Thatcher's England. I left the symbolism and politics to the pro's and instead sat back and enjoyed the marvelous acting, the devilish story, the fleshed out characters and the sometimes 'in your face' dialogue. If I had my way, the characters of the cook, the thief, his wife and her lover, would have been left nameless and Michael would have never spoken. They actually address the "silent Michael" theory at one point in the film, when he eventually does break his silence, but in my opinion, he should've been left enigmatic.

RATING: 7.5/10 That rating could rise. At this point, I'm still a little flummoxed on just what rating to give this picture, but a '7.5' seems the appropriate, so we'll go with it.


July 12, 2011 5:36pm

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