There are movies that I see every so often that pretty much change my concept on the way movies should be made. These films usually break the rules or rewrite their own, sometimes combining the two in the process. The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover is one of those rare ones that combine them. Equal parts movie, stage play, and painting, this film exceeded all expectations that I had for it in its story and its style. Now if I can just remember the name when I’m talking about it…
Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) is a gangster who has just gotten a nice new restaurant run by the chef Richard (Richard Bohringer). What you need to know about Spica is that he is loud, violent, and particularly abusive towards his wife, Georgina (Helen Mirren). On one day in the restaurant, Georgina and bookshop owner Michael (Alan Howard) lock eyes and promptly start an affair that grows with each passing day. Richard helps Georgina and Michael continue with their affair, but Albert is not as stupid as everyone likes to think he is. Soon he starts piecing together what is going on leading to some unfavorable results for everyone involved.
It would have been easy to make this movie look like an average movie, but there is nothing average looking about it. Peter Greenaway, the director of the film, is actually an accomplished painter which shows in how everything is composed. Every frame of this movie looks like you could take it and turn it into a painting to hang in some museum or another. Each room of the restaurant has a different color theme with the kitchen being green, the dining hall being red, and the bathroom being white. Each time a character walks from one section to the next, the color of their costume changes to the appropriate color of the room.
While it does look like a painting in pretty much every frame, this movie also has a very theatrical feel. A lot of the sets, especially the “exterior” ones look like they are being shot on a stage. Along with the look of being performed on a stage, the plot is about as dialogue driven as movies get. I felt like there was always someone talking at every point in the movie. Gambon’s character does most of the talking and I would imagine that it’s a pretty demanding role. Kudos to him for being able to yell that much for such a long time. The dialogue is witty and dark with parts that will make you question wether you should laugh or be disgusted. Every character has this sense of mystery about them, and we never really get to know them too well. The course of the film takes place over a week, and that is all we are allowed to know about.
What kind of person would I be if I didn’t rant and rave about the camera work? I feel like I need to mention it. Tracking shots, tracking shots, tracking shots. So many tracking shots, all of them a little better than the last. These shots combined with all of the changes of color makes for a very unique visual experience. I think that it’s pretty clear that this is what stuck out to me the most.
The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover is a unique film that is a treat both aesthetically and narratively. The story is dark, disturbing, and absolutely hysterical. There was so much potential for this movie to be mediocre and stereotypical, but it is more equivalent to a moving painting. It is a story splashed with color and lies that should not be missed by any cinephile. Check this one out and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.