★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Probably the most universally known of director Peter Greenaway’s films, I happily sat through my second viewing of this picture last night. Furthermore, I had the pleasure of introducing my girlfriend to a second helping of Greenaway’s bizarre film aesthetic following her original dose with A Zed and Two Noughts several months ago.
An ensemble cast of Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and Alan Howard complete the title characters in order, respectively. Richard Borst (Bohringer) is the head cook of a restaurant that is co-owned with villainous thief, Albert (Gambon). About 95% of the story takes place in and around this restaurant over the course (no pun intended) of one week. Albert, along with his clan of baddies and misfits (including a young Tim Roth), dines and disturbs the restaurant on an almost nightly basis. His wife, Georgina (Mirren), is brought along reluctantly and bears the brunt of his cruel jokes and boisterous rants. Michael (Howard) is a regular patron and a book aficionado who has a refined palette and sits at a table just several away from Albert’s raucous party. He and Georgiana eventually spark a sexual relationship that is fostered and kept secret by Richard and the wait staff. As their relationship blossoms outside the sexual realm, the dangers of Albert finding out grow until climatic results occur.
Greenaway’s usual motifs are in full force here: nakedness, metaphoric use of color, rotting animals, stylistic camera movements, heavy reliance on and pictorial representation of famous painters; in short, you can’t mistake for a minute that you are watching a Greenaway film. I say this, however, not as a sign of distaste for his work but as a applause to his artistic style. Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit that the man understands and brings the most out of each and every shot. The final scene of this film, which I won’t spoil for those of you who have not yet seen it, is what I consider pure cinema. It is perfect, the acting, the direction, the cinematography by Vierny, the sublime score by the wonderful Michael Nyman, production design, everything. Give me an auteur who can bring the elements of that scene to an entire motion picture and you have a brilliant masterpiece.
Though I have not seen every Greenaway film, this still stands as my favorite thus far. It is, in my opinion, probably the most accessible to the general public in regards to content and script, but it still has that special element that make it a Greenaway picture.