The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989) Review

23 05 2012

Copyright 1989 Allarts Cook

★ ★ ★ ★ 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.





A Zed and Two Noughts (1986) Review

15 11 2011

Copyright 1986 BFI

★ ★ ★ 1/2

This is my third foray into Peter Greenaway’s repertoire, so I went into this film with a general idea of what to expect, at least in terms of narrative filmmaking and visual style.  For those of you unaware of Greenaway’s work, his films are less a narrative fiction, than a sort of visual essay the dissects the theme and tone of the, usually bizarre, narrative.

This film, as hard as it is to summarize, is the story of two twin zoologist brothers whose wives die in a car accident that resulted from a Swan crossing the road on Swan’s Way.  The driver, raven-haired Alba Bewick (Andrea Ferreol), looses her leg in the crash.  The resulting grief of the brothers results in a morbid fascination with the process of natural decay.  As they analyze the beginnings of life from single cell organisms to the decay of everything from an Apple to a Dalmatian, they try to find some solace and purpose in life and the accident.  To further complicate the structure, they both begin to have an affair with the legless driver of the fateful vehicle, Alba.  In necessity to achieve symmetry, she eventually has her other leg amputated as well.  Other characters include a set of conniving zoo keepers, a doctor with a fascination for Vermeer paintings and a whore who recites various prose.  Ah yes, and Zebras….lots of zebras.

I won’t lie, this is a difficult film to get through, even for me.  However, it’s not a bad film; honestly, it’s kind of cheating to call it a film at all.  It doesn’t flow like a normal movie and doesn’t have the aspects we usually look for in narrative storytelling.  It truly is, best described, as a visual essay with a loose narrative structure attached for continuity.  The direction by Greenaway and cinematography by long-time collaborator Sacha Vierny are exquisite.  The images are carefully symmetrical and the lighting approach is very mood oriented.  Visually, it is a beautiful film.  However, narratively, it is so unique that it is almost hard to rate.  Is it pretentious?  Yes.  Does it have a purpose?  Yes.  Would a lot of people hate the film?  Yes.  So, I leave it to you, the viewer, as to whether you think you might like this film or not.  I, personally, marveled at the visual beauty and enjoyed it on a level, but can easily see how some people couldn’t even stomach that much of an appreciation.  If you are up for a challenge though, this one is a challenge.








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