With a crop of both holiday fluff (see "The Sitter!") and forgettable art house fare (don't see "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy!") hitting theaters this week we thought we’d add a little five-star avant-garde experience for the couch crowd. Time for...Forgotten Friday Flick! Can there actually be a film that captures colors and visuals that scream beautiful, but is also immersed in some of the most explicit, disgusting, vile and downright jaw-drop shocking moments ever caught on celluloid? If your name is Peter Greenaway, master filmmaking craftsman, it’s not only possible, but can be found at the local video store. (Or available via the nearest streaming device!) The title may be long, but the effect of the film will linger a lot longer, as we delve into the 1989 NC-17 Miramax classic..."The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover."
Titles can sometimes be deceiving, but in the case of this one it’s dead on. The Cook refers to French chef Richard Borst, a world class food expert who runs the lush and color stark restaurant Le Hollandais. The Thief is uncouth English gangster Albert Spica, whose manners and vile behavior is only eclipsed by his foul way of speaking. His Wife is lovely and vibrant Georgina, a seemingly reserved woman who takes the brunt of Albert’s rage, though is secretly hungry for passion and romance. And finally Her Lover is timid bookshop owner and frequent Le Hollandais patron Michael, a well-read man who understands the gentle needs of a woman.
Played out like a Shakespearean play on acid, there is nothing normal about "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" – at all. Right from the first few minutes where we see a man force-fed dog feces by Michael Gambon’s vicious Thief, we know this is ain’t your grandma’s stuffy English play. And it only gets more poetically brutal from there; raw restaurant sex, forks used as stabbing weapon, being trapped in a rotting food trucks naked, and even a pinch of cannibalism are just a few of the graphic highlights that awaiting the those with a finer palate.
But for all the bold, brutal and bloody bravado, Greenaway never stops his film and all the contents within from always looking their cinematic best. A visual artist in every sense of the word, Greenaway takes great care in making sure each scene within the film has it’s own unqiue color, flair and style and when juxtaposed with the graphic elements makes for one arresting piece of cinema. (Not to mention that the music by Michael Nyman gives the film a distinctively operatic vibe - unforgettable!)
Not to mention that his Greenaway’s cast is the crème de la crème of top talent. Gambon in the role of a lifetime as Albert ‘relishing in other people’s misery’ Spica, Helen Mirren as the sultry Georgina (man does she look good for her age here!), Richard Bohringer as the classy chef and even Alan Howard as the quiet lover all play their parts with such delight and gusto that it adds another color to the films already lush landscape. (Plus there’s even some early appearances by both Tim Roth and Ciaran Hinds to boot!)
Obviously "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and it’s not for the faint of heart (I was shocked – and I’ve seen everything!), but even the squeamish have to admit that the film is truly something special. Wicked, wondrous and winning, no other film carries such a grandiose gut punch right up until the final frame like this one does. What’s the difference is between The Cook helmer and all the other exploitive gratuitous hacks out there - Greenaway makes this look good.