|How can I say such a thing?|
Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) is a British mobster (or a thug with underlings, if you don't like that term) with some unique passions. He loves money, he loves food, and he loves...well, the third one is better left unsaid for now. He has plenty of money, so he indulges his second passion by owning a fancy French restaurant, even though he doesn't appear to truly like much French food. Unlike most fans of fine dining, though, Albert likes to force his opinions and tastes upon everyone else. The film opens with his head chef, Richard (Richard Bohringer), being publicly humiliated --- stripped naked, beaten, peed on, with excrement smeared on his body and shoved in his mouth --- for contradicting Albert. Everything that Albert does to "improve" the restaurant is gaudy and classless, and he only appears sophisticated next to his boorish underlings.
Helen Mirren), who is sophisticated and does appreciate French cuisine. Why is she with such a brute? Well, it appears that she has given up escaping or changing Albert, and has resigned herself to ignoring her surroundings as much as possible. One night, though, Georgina makes eye contact with another restaurant patron, Michael (Alan Howard), and something changes. No words are exchanged at first, but they begin a passionate affair, right there in the restaurant, under Albert's nose.
|Passionate affairs apparently aren't always fun or glamorous|
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is a film steeped in directorial intent. I haven't researched it, so I'm not exactly sure what director Peter Greenaway is commenting on with this movie, but I'll hazard a guess that it has symbolic meanings (and, given the time period and country of origin, probably has something to do with Thatcher). That's fine and all, but I'm going to concern myself with the film out of the context of the times. The first thing that struck me about this film is how strange it looks. The visuals are simply striking. There are only a few sets in the movie, but they all have their own color scheme and lighting; the restaurant is red, the bathrooms are a spotless white, and the kitchen has kind of a greenish hue. The sets are enormous; the kitchen looks like a warehouse and the bathrooms are large enough to play soccer in.
I think it is indisputable, though, that Greenaway worked well with his cast. Michael Gambon --- a classically trained actor, with many Shakespearean credits to his name, along with some Harry Potters --- is thoroughly reprehensible as the boorish Thief of the title. He's so rude and gross and vulgar that it is easy to forget what a dignified actor he typically is; that's some damn fine acting, right there.
|Bibs: not classy|
There was a bit of controversy when The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover was first released --- the MPAA was going to rate it X, so the filmmakers decided to release it unrated (the modern equivalent would be NC-17), which meant that only adults could see it. With such an edgy rating, you would think that this film reeked of sexual and violent excess. It really doesn't. Yes, there is a decent amount of nudity; Mirren, Howard, and Bohringer all have full-frontal scenes. These scenes are not meant to be erotic (most of the time), but sad and desperate. There is violence in the movie, but nothing too gory.
|Evil Dead 2 did it so much better|
There is a lot of artistic merit in this film, but the big question remains: is it good? I acknowledge that this film has many technical achievements in film style. I compliment the main two actors on their excellent performances. Heck, I even like the surreal settings and soundtrack. But did I like it? Not a whole lot, but I think I appreciate it. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is a hard film to sit through because it is uncomfortable to watch; if you have a different viewing experience, then I would probably not feel comfortable around you in social situations. And that's fine (the film being uncomfortable, that is), since that was clearly the filmmaker's intent. Thankfully, that intent stops before the film becomes unwatchable and/or too pretentious for words. Still, it's a pretty strange trip, and not a very fun one at that. I think I would have enjoyed the film more if the bizarrely theatrical sets were less obvious; every time I looked at the classical painting in the restaurant, or the enormous size of the bathrooms, or the hobo town appearance of the kitchen, I found myself distanced from the story, and that's a problem for me. In strictly technical terms, TCTTHW&HL is an impressive piece of work, but it's a piece of craftsmanship that that won't appeal to many.