So, I’ll be subjecting myself on the run up to Halloween with some “challenging” cinema, so you don’t have to or maybe it’ll influence your own Halloween viewing, either way I hope you enjoy the reviews. I’ll try and keep them spoiler free. Onto the film.
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.
I came across this masterpiece when watching an interview with the director Ari Aster famous for, Hereditary, Midsomer & Beau is Afraid. Ari Aster was casually discussing his favourite films and directors; this title really caught my attention. “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” is a 1989 crime drama; written and directed by Welsh director Peter Greenaway, starring Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and Alan Howard in the title roles. An unpleasant gangster, Albert Spicer (The Thief), brutally takes over a restaurant & subjects the employees, his wife & the customers to his horrendous practices. No behaviour is too crude for the thief, who humiliates his underlings, beats and degrades his wife, and whose treatment of the chef in the opening scene may send some patrons racing for the exits before the real horror show has even begun.
I feel it is my duty to forewarn you if you plan to watch this film that this film is tense & unpleasant. The long shots, fantastic acting & dialogue only adds to the tension. Some reviews refer to this as a dark comedy and although there is some humour, the continual sense of threat negates any relief offered by the “comedic” moments.
From the themes & imagery of Ari Aster’s films I can see why he likes this film so much. I should have known what I was getting myself into! This is a cinematic masterpiece but very difficult viewing. The violence & abuse depicted on the screen reminds one of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. This film is not for everyone!
Peter Greenaway’s disturbing crime drama is a visual feast, cameras glide effortlessly through sets via means of long tracking shots, while contrasting colours used in the lighting & costume design paint renaissance style scenes. The attention to detail is immaculate everything revolves around the theme of food; each scene is introduced by a menu, in nearly every shot food is present. The food portrayed throughout the film & the character’s relationships to each dish, can be argued to represent, the character’s desires but also their excess & greed. Even the music revolves around the preparation of the food, knifes cut through vegetables & meat in perfect time to the musical score. Throughout the scenes in the restaurant the viewers eyes are continuously drawn to the painting “The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company” by Frans Hals. This painting dominates the background of each shot. The themes & colour coding of this painting mirrors the themes & cinematography of the film. I personally loved that there is a different colour scheme to each location, a sickly green for outside, red for the dining room & a clinical white for the toilets, this really hammers home the artistic stylisation. The character’s costumes even change colour as they walk from one location to another, thus the incredible colour pallet & renaissance stylisation is always present. It has to be said this film is cinematically beautiful, and the beauty is a true juxtaposition to the horrible scenes laid out before you.
At another end of the spectrum, you could argue this is a political film based heavily in theme of anti-Thatcherism. perhaps a metaphor against the Poll tax & how Peter Greenaway portrayed the conservative’s treatment of the British working class in general. The main protagonists each portraying a different aspect of the political debate. For example, the architype of the Cook could represent civil servants & dutiful citizens, the Thief could represent, Thatcher’s arrogance & support of the Greedy, the Wife could represent Britain as a whole, while the Lover could represent the ineffectual opposition by the left & intellectuals.
“The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover” is not an easy film to sit through. It doesn’t simply make a show of being uncompromising, it is uncompromised in every single shot from beginning to end. I highly recommended watching if you think you can stomach it.