The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover Jun 12, 2017 19:20:33 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jun 12, 2017 19:20:33 GMT -5
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)
Directed by: Paul Greenaway
Directed by: Paul Greenaway
The Last Supper of sorts in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.
Let us bask in the character role-call of Paul Greenaway's allegorical classic from 1989.
The Cook: Played by Richard Bohringer, the first of the four cast of characters of Greenaway's film is a hapless chef named Richard, who works for the bourgeois restaurant known as "Le Hollandais." Despite cooking and preparing four-course meals being his primary duty, the Cook is nonetheless given the thankless task of working under the strict order of English gangster Albert Spica. In time, however, the Cook will come to be representative of something, or someone in this case, bigger than himself by helping someone in need of immediate freedom from bondage. Let's call him "the Catholic Church."
The Thief: Played by Michael Gambon, the second character mentioned in the title is the aforementioned Albert Spica, the oafish and unruly mobster who owns and oversees the operations of Le Hollandais. He's loud and unapologetically crass, abuses his wife, and his unsavory actions and remarks sicken everyone not only at his table during their meal, but throughout the entire restaurant. Part of his anger seems to stem from insecurities and self-loathing, the other a desire for uncompromising dominance. One thing's for sure, he's the most unpleasant character in the film and by far the most prolific. Let's call him "Satan."
His Wife: Played by the great Helen Mirren, Georgina is the wife of Albert, and she's far more sophisticated and mannered than him, mainly because her husband has clubbed her into submission after years of a rocky marriage. She mostly sits adjacent to him at dinner in stone-cold silence, awakened by a slap across the face by her ill-tempered husband. Quite frequently, she rises from the table and not-so-conspicuously heads to the bathroom in order to rid herself of the evils of her husband and enjoy privacy the only place she knows where to find it with one of the only people in whom she finds solace. Let's call her "the public."
Her Lover: Finally, we come to the fourth and final character in our long-winded title and he's played by Alan Howard. "The Lover" of the film, Michael, is the owner of a French bookstore who has carried on a star-crossed affair with Georgina largely confined to bathroom blowjobs and locking eyes from a room's distance. Michael works to help emancipate Georgina from the drudgery and contempt of being married to her incorrigible husband. Being alone, even in an unromantic place like the bathroom, at least allows both of them peace of mind, on top of Michael a place to work his magic and uplift someone so sad and sullen in life. Let's call him "Jesus."
If you don't know, now you know: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover can be an allegory for just about any external subtext you bring to it. Often cited as a brutal critique of European politics at the time, which became more conservative and "Westernized" as a result of sitting Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Greenaway's scathing and perverse picture also ignites the flames for a sidesplitting religious analogy that vividly paints symbols of the Catholic faith.
Indeed, Thatcher's school of thought, known not-so-lovingly as "Thatcherism," which led to a rise in consumerism in Europe and an unrelenting battle to combat inflation, is one of Greenaway's most evident critiques as the very principles that embolden Albert to the point of him having a paradoxically dictatorial stranglehold on his restaurant. His barbaric behavior doesn't turn away his customers as much as it instills fear in them to given undeserved respect to the brute; a silent, stunned respect that carries weight. Greenaway's screenplay allows not only Albert, but the various other characters and situations in the film to be read in a myriad of different ways give a rare and fascinating multilayered quality to a deceptively linear film.
A wide-range of instances and scenes in the film work to illustrate this theological allegory moreso than the political one that has captivated a recent wave of viewers. For example, the Thief in the film comes to despise his Wife's Lover when he discovers he exists, as Satan or the forces of evil apparently did during the rise of Jesus Christ's teachings and popularity amongst the masses. Albert loves the fact that his wife, much like a vast majority of the public, is in bondage to him to the point where she consciously or subconsciously feels that she needs him in order to go on, and the kind of freedom, exhilaration, and thrill the Lover brings her is simply unjust.
When Albert comes to discover the affair, he throws both Georgina and Michael into a meat-truck where they are coated in blood and nearly paralyzed by the pungent smell of decomposing flesh. On top of being vivid imagery for the makeup of fire and brimstone, who else cleans the two off and goes on to be a confidant for Georgina - even more than Michael - but Richard, the Cook? Richard's act of cleaning a person's body (or temple) is similar to the practice of the Catholic Church. Like Michael, Richard provides Georgina with an escape from Albert's sickening behavior in a way that allows her to know that there are not only good people in the world, but there are outlets of support and assistance along the way.
All of this allegorical relevance has made me forget what a formalist masterpiece The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is. Certain shots and framing techniques carry the weight of timeless portraits or iridescent locations in the world that can be witnessed but rarely captured or replicated. Massively stylized, Paul Greenaway's film reminds me a lot of the same care and attention director Wes Anderson gives his films, carefully constructing shots so they are symmetrical and filled with life and movement. One of my favorite shots here is a long-shot captured straight-on a vehicle in the back alley of the restaurant, with the dividing line of the road bisecting the car right down the middle. If the image were a still and split in half, you would have two symmetrical halves of a whole picture, right down to the placement of actors on opposite sides of the vehicle.
Greenaway is so concerned with form and tone here, he frequently drenches entire scenes in color. Cool greens, sinful reds, ominous blacks that contrast with cool blues, and a decor and set design so lavish it would make the Royal Family long on with envy, Greenaway and his trusty cinematographer Sacha Vierny never fail just how complexly and beautifully this film is decorated from the ground up. The color often works germane with the decadent string orchestration which makes the film play like a deranged opera that meditates on life, theology, and politics all in an overblown but wickedly fascinating manner.
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is also a very graphic picture, so graphic that the MPAA threatened the film's studio Miramax with two options upon initial viewing: either stamp it with the ignominious (and now discarded) X-rating, associating it with hardcore pornography and restricting advertising and theater-count, or allow the film to be released with under the ambiguous "Unrated" tag. Harvey Weinstein chose the latter, although the film was released on home video in a 95 minute R-rated cut, which is as useless as a clean Tupac CD. The film is scatological and, for the less curious and partial, will be the most explicit film a person might see in their lifetime, featuring excess nudity, graphic sex, assault, and cannibalism. Greenaway's film is necessarily and justifiably graphic, however; it's a devilishly exceptional piece of work and a strong showcase of art and allegory in an extreme, lasting manner.
Starring: Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Alan Howard, and Tim Roth. Directed by: Paul Greenaway.