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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 12.82%
Average: 2.56%
Pretty Bad: 2.56%
Total Crap: 10.26%

1 review, 33 user ratings

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Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, The
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by John Linton Roberson

"Deliciously savage satire of the Thatcher era."
5 stars

I seem to review nothing but British films here. Well, let this time be no exception. Today we have before us a luxurious and repugnant film, known to many(though few seem to admit liking it, even after watching the third time), Peter Greenaway's most fully successful vision, THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER(known hereafter as the COOK; why? I'm lazy.) This film sums up everything I like in Peter Greenaway. Some call this an evil film. So what? If this is an evil film we need many more.

It concerns a restaurant, we're never quite sure where exactly(somewhere on the edge of the European zone of Hell, from the look of it) which has been forcefully taken over by a mobster named Albert Spica. In the first 5 minutes he pisses on a restaurant owner who defied him, bullies his wife, and tells Richard, the chef who owned the place, how things will be, mispronouncing every French word on the menu(hitting his wife when she corrects him), and eating there every night with his gang, which includes a very funny Tim Roth, holding forth vulgarly on subjects he knows nothing about and humiliating his wife every which way.

She takes an interest in a man who sits in the corner eating as he reads, and begins an affair in hidden parts of the restaurant(and I hope this isn't vulgar, but this includes the most oddly lyrical and tasteful fellatio scene you're ever likely to see), which Georgina keeps hidden, for a while, from Albert. When he finds out, of course, savagery not out of place in a Jacobean revenge drama(one of the multiple cultural samplings in the structure of the film; others include Rembrandt, Vermeer, Damien Hirst and Francis Bacon) breaks loose, both the poor fellow Georgina sleeps with and Albert, in differing horrible ways, being made to literally eat their words. That's as much as I can say without spoiling it for you. I wouldn't recommend any dinner involving meat just after watching this, though.

First off, this is the most blackly humorous film I ever recall seeing. Every gloriously lush and perfectly composed image, every incredibly horrifying line of dialogue, etched themselves with acid in my brain from the first time I saw it. Michael Gambon, almost unrecognizable to those who know "The Singing Detective," is terrifying as Albert. Albert is insanely, blusteringly ignorant, the sort of man who, if color blind, would beat a man senseless to make him admit the sky was grey. Albert is big and frightening, but falls apart if he loses what he's tied down. And Gambon brings all this, and humor, across, making a full-blooded character that in other hands would have so easily been a 2-dimensional caricature.

Helen Mirren, too, portrays dignity and equally deep sadness in a woman otherwise brutalized to nothing by her husband, in terror at the very sound of his footsteps but inventive in fooling and exacting revenge upon him. She portrays unspeakable, profound pain as well as John Hurt, the master among male actors, and why then is she cast in such shit parts in Hollywood? She's been consistently brilliant and ascerbic in every film in which I've seen her. Hollywood doesn't fucking deserve her anyway.

One one level, this is a grand and merciless satire of the Nouveau Riche yuppies that arose here too, but in Britain in a more ugly way--the Tory Visigoths with Margaret Thatcher leading them selfishly onward. Those who bought paintings by the yard from artists whose work, unseen, they'd heard was "in," to give the appearance of the culture their newly acquired class was supposed to signify. As, for instance, Albert mispronounces every French word he sees in this restaurant about which he knows nothing, and intends to force to adjust to his ignorance because he's rich and vicious. He tells the chef he should serve consomme heated, for instance; he's got stoves, for God's sake.

The costuming by Jean-Paul Gaultier(which changes color to suit the room it's in, a lovely effect, especially given the smothering reds, browns, and most especially greens with which the film is lovingly saturated), fetishistic and sharp, is more perfectly integrated into the theme of the film than any costume design I've ever seen. Totally non-naturalistic, it borrows from several places, the men wearing dinner suits with sashes making them look appropriately piratical(as they are metaphorical yuppie sharks), the women clad in dresses halfway between ballroom and fetish. And I have to admit Helen Mirren looks pretty damn hot in the dress with multiple straps. But then, I've always had an attraction to older women.

The film is also the most interesting example of the classic "Greenaway Structure," which I'll venture to say you'll find in almost every film he's made. The elements of the structure are Artist, the Bully With The Money and/or Power(usually male), Wife/Mother, and Child. He shuffles these elements back and forth in just about all his films, placing heavier emphasis on some at times than others. Some--as the Child, represented here by a miscarriage whose awful circumstances also produced infertility--at times become merely conceptual, but still present. The Artist is sucked dry by the ignorant interferences, judgement, and intimidations of the Bully. Nevertheless, the Artist still needs the Bully--who can kill him anytime--to survive. As in real life. And this perverts his work. And immortality is not even possible through a child, at least not for the males. When a pregnancy is successful(as in BELLY OF AN ARCHITECT or DROWNING BY NUMBERS) the male responsible dies, having become redundant. Unless, as in THE PILLOW BOOK, the mother is the artist, or as in BABY OF MACON, where there is no father per se. But usually the Mother survives all. What this means, you debate, but that's the diagram.

Which is in no way a slight on Greenaway. For years I grew irritated when those who liked the film told me their reason: the decor, the production design, and the clothes--they'd generally ignored the plot altogether. Then, when reading interviews with Greenaway, I found out these were in fact the elements foremost in his mind, plot being somewhat incidental in his view of how a film should be made. I imagine that's why the plots are so elemental and emotionally brutal--like Kubrick, Greenaway seems to have a cold, distanced and rather misanthropic view of the human race.(Which is fine by me) In all his films, the veneer of sophistication humans imagine they have hidden behind barely conceals their animal needs, pettiness, and cruelty underneath. None of his films burns this point home in your brain like this one.

I imagine you've seen this, but if you haven't do, and see it only in a widescreen version; only then is the full painterly effect and beauty of the film come across. Not for the weak of stomach, but a masterpiece anyway.

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originally posted: 10/16/99 18:55:33
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User Comments

4/21/18 Louise Horrible but so beautifully made, you can't help but be suckered in. Superb. 5 stars
3/28/15 stanley welles a brilliant, intelligent and powerful movie 5 stars
2/19/07 William Goss Overly theatrical melodrama is admirable, but highly abrasive. Great use of widescreen. 4 stars
11/14/06 Charles Tatum A dreary bore 1 stars
8/25/05 Jerry in Gladstone This movie was absolutely terrible, possibly the worst I've ever seen 1 stars
8/16/05 Kyle Wonderful. 5 stars
3/16/05 dbx visual masterpiece 5 stars
5/17/04 Pinkline Jones I'll Never Eat Another Barbecued Chicken 4 stars
3/28/04 john bizarre and wonderful - feels more like a piece of music than a conventional movie 5 stars
12/01/03 Stephen Knight A masterpiece of rage cloaked in the lush tones of a Vermeer. 5 stars
11/18/03 Genna Grushovenko beautiful film 5 stars
1/20/03 Jack Sommersby Simply brilliant. A colorful, orgiastic filmgoing delight! The photography is genius. 5 stars
5/22/02 Sheila Evans Complains about wiping someone's ass, though that could never be as bad as watching this mo 1 stars
4/13/02 sue it was all right a little gross 4 stars
1/15/02 Gennadiy Grushovenko This is a true work of art 5 stars
12/05/01 john linton roberson Brill. 5 stars
12/03/01 shep great stuff from greenaway 4 stars
11/26/01 t k truly original 5 stars
7/11/01 Graham Bradley Provoking and darkly intriguing, more Greenaway please! 5 stars
7/01/01 Libor Manak the best film I've ever seen 5 stars
6/30/01 Judith Latham An amazing beautiful satirical symbolic film. Greenaway is a genius. 5 stars
4/22/01 dimoc klasiko 5 stars
2/07/01 Dave Hauslein A structuralist masterpiece 5 stars
2/07/01 m Simply put, it is the best film I have ever watched, and re-watched. Greenaway's masterpiec 5 stars
1/13/01 Dizaner Leone Truly engaging cinema. 5 stars
8/13/00 hamed sarrafizadeh it was so amazing 3 stars
7/10/00 Polychem Ultra Violence and Fine Dining, who could ask for more? 5 stars
1/19/00 PervertedPixie Warped and wonderful- shades of Delicatessen. This is seriously sick shit! 5 stars
10/18/99 Suzanne Greenaway's films aren't pretentious...they're just not Runaway Bride. 5 stars
10/16/99 John Roberson A fucking masterpiece 5 stars
10/13/99 JonnyAngel one big fart of a movie 1 stars
10/06/99 strike Like all of Greenaway`s movies it is very pretentious, but this one is also very watchable. 4 stars
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  06-Apr-1990 (NC-17)
  DVD: 13-Mar-2001

  02-Sep-1990 (18)

  02-Nov-1990 (R)

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