Saturday, October 4, 2008
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989) A Film by Peter Greenaway
One can't help but wonder what makes people come back to Le Hollandais gourmet restaurant. The answer can perhaps be lent to the overall fantasy quality of The Cook, Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, and certainly not to the malicious tendencies of its owner. Michael Gambon plays one of the most relentlessly vile antagonists in screen history with his portrayal of Albert, the thief. One of the inherent questions in the film is: can a person who seemingly has no love to give, genuinely love? Director Peter Greenaway explores this question and a few others in his provocative theatrical imagining of the scummy tidings of a gourmet restaurant.
When the thief's wife becomes fed up with the way he treats her, she begins a relationship with one of the regulars of the restaurant, an act which is at first out of lust but transforms into deep passion. Her lover, as described by the film's title, is named Michael. He sits alone at his table with his nose in books while enjoying the splendid tastes of the eatery. Albert simultaneously parses him into the characteristic of a Jewish book freak, ("This is not a library, this is a restaurant!"). He is an intelligent, forward-thinking man, a stark contrast to Albert, who is immature, outrageous, and violent. Albert's wife Georgie, played by Helen Mirren, inevitably partakes in mischievous sex with Michael. The act arouses suspicion from many of the denizens of the kitchen and imminently so; they do it right in the general proximity of others. Such audacity deserves attention on the part of Greenaway. He demonstrates continually the limits of what he can bring to this fable: sexual blasphemy and snide social commentary, and its all the more fun because of it.
The vision of the film is as impressively focused as anything by Wes Anderson, and its staging and photography are as fascinatingly deliberate and spacious as any of the later films of Stanley Kubrick. The settings are established extremely well in the film-the camera stays with its recognizable distances and angles, respecting the audience's positioning. Each room is distinct, a feature that harbors accolades for the art director. The bathroom, with its white walls and sleek design, has Kubrickian symmetry to it. The kitchen (where an angelic dishwasher boy sings piercing opera), with its pistachio tones and spewing steam, looks like the underbelly of some industrial uprising. The rooms even own there own musical pieces! Kudos to the score by the way, which is fantastic. The point is, there is something aesthetically glorious for every movie fan to latch on to. If an interest can be established there, then indeed the plot will offer great excitement too. It's extraordinarily stimulating while also being idiosyncratic. Greenaway's a real talent.