Greenaway describes the impulses behind his work as "technical and aesthetic and cerebral and academic." His films have not been developed according to the demands of narrative ("Cinema is much too important to be left to the storytellers," says Greenaway), but by equally deterministic
formulas of the director's own devising: formalism, structural symmetry, recurring patterns and symbols, puns and conceits.
At its core a simple tale of adultery, jealousy and revenge, THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER is built around the four characters of the title, the divisions of the restaurant (each room perhaps representing its own historical epoch), the tradition of table painting (a huge Frans Hals
reproduction dominates the dining room), and the central metaphysical conceit linking mouth with anus, food with feces, and sex with death.
Greenaway reportedly identifies with the cook: he watches, maintains a dignified distance, but acts decisively on behalf of the lovers. Michael Gambon's Thief and Alan Howard's Lover are diametrical opposites, the one boorish, crude, and ignorant, the other calm, gentle, and cultured. Gambon never
stops talking but has little to say; Howard, on the other hand, remains silent for the first 20 minutes of the film but proves thoughtful and wise. Setting out to create an irredeemable monster, Greenaway takes his film to the very limits of screen permissiveness, from graphic torture to
The film has been seen as a vitriolic condemnation of contemporary consumerism and greed, but for all the brutality and physical savagery Greenaway depicts, one suspects his contempt is really aimed at the nouveaux riches who do not appreciate the gourmet dishes they can pay for but whose names
they cannot pronounce. If there is a connection between this philistine lack of sophistication and Howard's study of the French Revolution, then Gambon is surely representative of the peasants and the Terror--in his resolutely one-dimensional role he embodies every snob or aesthete's nightmare
villain. Not surprisingly, his ranting soon becomes repetitive and boring. Greenaway's dialogue cannot sustain our interest, and his lack of humor is the film's biggest drawback. For a lover of games, the director is never remotely playful.
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- Released: 1989
- Rating: NR
- Review: Greenaway describes the impulses behind his work as "technical and aesthetic and cerebral and academic." His films have not been developed according to the demands of narrative ("Cinema is much too important to be left to the storytellers," says Greenaway)… (more)