Experimental and Avant-Garde : [Last Film I Watch] The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)

[Last Film I Watch] The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)

Title: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
Year: 1989
Country: UK, France
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance
Director/Writer: Peter Greenaway
Music: Michael Nyman
Cinematography: Sacha Vierny
Michael Gambon
Helen Mirren
Richard Bohringer
Alan Howard
Tim Roth
Paul Russell
Liz Smith
Ron Cook
Ciarán Hinds
Roger Ashton-Griffiths
Ian Dury
Rating: 7.5/10

Notoriously labeled as a uncompromising provocateur, a controversial auteur in the cinema realm, Peter Greenaway’s sixth feature film THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER might be his most well-known work to date, it is a sheer revelation to watch, imprinted by its unique palette of the stage setting, gliding long-shots of tableaux vivants, and the excessive verbal abuse from Albert (Gambon), aka, the thief, sometimes commingled with Psalm 52:2 sung by a boy soprano.

Scatology, sadism, nudity, necrophilism all take their turns in this black comedy, happens in an upmarket French restaurant Le Hollandais, run by chef Richard Boarst (Bohringer), where the foul-mouthed, egoistic, snooty gangster Albert comes every night with his cohorts. In an ostentatious arrangement, Greenaway ingeniously confers a distinctive colour-pattern (green, red, white) to three main sets (the kitchen, the restaurant and the lavatory) - where food is possessed, consumed and eventually excreted - even the characters’ costumes are compliant to this pattern.

“Cook Michael for me, will you?”, pleads Georgia (Mirren), the wife, to Richard, Michael (Howard) is her inamorato, tortured to death by her jealousy ridden Albert. Cannibalism has entered this highly conceptualised allegory in its boldest manner, served as the ultimate poetic justice to the basest vulgarity, pomposity and violence.

Among the four titular characters, Georgia is the victim, married into wealth but is abused by her brute husband on a daily base, there is a shocking soliloquy she addresses to Michael’s dead body about her agony which she is too ashamed to tell him when he was alive. To conduct tryst everyday in the restaurant under Albert’s eyelids is the only rebellion she is capable of doing, and she is quite good at it until the truth goes out inevitably. She should and must be the one to relish the thrill of a thorough revenge. Mirren emerges as a gutsy and sensual heroine in this unheralded performance here.

Michael, a bookshop owner, an intellectual whose libidinous impulse will incur his doom, but under Howard’s collected mannerism, he couldn’t care less about his own safety other than arriving on time for his quotidian rendezvous. Richard, is the secretive abettor of their affair, he detests Albert to the core, but bears a phlegmatic front to avoid getting embroiled, but he will never miss a golden opportunity to exert justice to the lowest of the low as if he is the omnipotent God. Finally, Albert, the scum of the earth, epitomises the pure vice inside a human being, is obnoxious up to the hilt, Gambon wields his master-class theatrics to filibuster for nearly two hours, which is something not everyone can stomach.

Integrating food, sex and death to excesses, Greenaway’s unapologetically experimental stunner is a sui generis accomplishment, riveting, voyeuristic, provoking, only in the fullness of its running time, it betrays a tint of hesitancy, does the gratifying wind-up taste good? After all, rough justice arrives a tad too rash, if that’s the right way to eradicate vice from the world.

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