The Sunday Cult Film Corner: “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)”

13 Jan

the Cook. the thief, his wife, and her lover


After a couple of weeks absence, I was going to do a new TSCFC post about the film “Possession,” which is a truly unsettling, hysterical film of monumental proportions. But YouTube have now decided to take it off their site, which frankly is a bit of a ballache. But fortune favours the brave, or at least someone with a back up plan.

And for this weeks instalment of THE SUNDAY CULT FILM CORNER, we have a full on art house tour de force that pretty much proves you are what you eat. Ladies and gentlemen  I have to you THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE, AND HER LOVER.

Directed in 1989 by Peter Greenaway, the film stars Michael Gambon as Albert, a London gangster with delusions of grandeur and high living who has bought into a high-class restaurant owned by Borst (Richard Bohringer).However, classy he is not, and his visits with wife Georgina (Helen Mirren) to the restaurant as tense frightful affair thanks to his boorish and thuggish behaviour. However one night at the restaurant Georgina notices a quiet book shop owner, Michael (Alan Howard). they start an affair with the help of the restaurant staff. However when Albert finds out of the affair and punishes the two of them in vicious way, Georgina vows an unusual and grisly revenge on her husband.

Peter Greenaway is a director that divides a lot of people, the chief criticism being that he is a highly pretentious arty director, more concerned with style and how his films look, as opposed to things such as plot, narrative. acting, etc. And there is some truth to these criticisms when you look at many of his films such as The Draughtman’s Contract,’ and ‘Drowning By Numbers.’ But ‘The Cook…’ is considered by many to be his most accessible film in that there is the bare bones of a plot and a fairly decent script.

Of course, despite having these elements in place, this is definitely a Peter Greenaway film to the core. The whole film is stuffed with symbolism, another pet fave of Greenaway (While ‘A Zed And Two Naughts’  contained twin-based symmetry, ‘Drowning By Numbers’ was pretty much a counting game on film). And so it is with ‘The Cook…’ with the emphasis on flesh, decay, the nature of how our senses are manipulated, etc. For example, a high level of importance is placed on lighting and framing in the film, with different colours represent certain moods and places, shown in such a vivid palette not seen since the likes of Argento’s ‘Suspiria’. Along with the elegant precise score by Michael Nyman that beautifully complements the filth of the humanity on display, copious amounts of nudity, some rather graphic violence, and tonnes of food porn on display (provided by renowned chef Giorgio Locatelli), this film is a veritable orgy of the senses.

The film’s accessibility is helped immensely by some true powerhouse performances by the two leads. Gambon is truly repellent and oozes brutish sleaze as he chews up every scene in the film, while he is ably countered by Mirren as the cold, highly intelligent, but brutalised wife, who is often forced to lower herself to her husband’s level. The quality of their acting is such that even when you have the likes of Tim Roth in the movie, he’s pretty much reduced to glowering in the background.

Even after several viewings ‘The Cook…’ continues to reveal new things to the viewer, the cinematic equivalent  of a Russian folk doll. As Greenaway noted, “Film is too important to be left in the hands of storytellers.” and on the strength of ‘The Cook…’ he may be right.

So for your Sunday night, sit back, grab that chicken tikka masala, and watch a film that will leave a lingering taste in your mouth…

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Posted by on January 13, 2013 in Film


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