222 of 1001 Movies: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, Her Lover (1989)

So strange yet quite good. This British movie is a mix of romance, crime, and drama. It’s done in the most artsy way I’ve seen. Unlike many movies that shoot just for the art appeal and forget to have good characters and a plot, this one does have those things as well. Peter Greenaway explores how you can the atmosphere with strong color, and the pushed the envelope at the time with lots of nudity, and violence that would make you cringe. Plus, you have an unforgettable ending on top of that.

Summary: Albert is not only a restaurant owner, but a scary crime boss. He murders and tortures in the most barbaric of ways. His wife, Georgina, is tired of the abuse. When she meets a man, Michael, at her husband’s restaurant who frequents often, they begin an affair.  Georgina believes it’s best for them to continue the affair at the restaurant since her husband would never figure out that she would do that right when he is in the same place. Having an affair with a woman who’s husband is the crime boss though can prove dangerous business.

Acting: I haven’t seen Helen Mirren in any roles she did when younger, but I’ve liked her roles I’ve seen of recent. In this movie though Mirren makes a character in an odd movie someone that actually feels real though. Mirren brings out the strength and vulnerability of a woman who now feels she has her back up against a wall, and will get out no matter the cost. I also haven’t seen Michael Gambon in anything but Harry Potter where he is Dumbledore, so as you can imagine Albert is a huge leap away from that. Gambon though makes you really dislike this guy, and he plays him without any hesitance to reacting to his character. Another recognizable face is Tim Roth who is one of the thieves, but the loyalest. Alan Howard is Michael, the lover, and Howard plays the part well and quietly, but the quietness makes a huge impact.

Filming: Where the movie gets really crazy is in the filming. The movie is almost filmed in theater style. All the scenes connect. It’s mainly set in a kitchen and the main room at a restaurant, so when transitioning we basically just walk over to the room with them. It also seems Wes Anderson took some inspiration from this movie. When going to different days we have little title cards in the form and style of menus come up to transition the movie. On top of that Greenaway decides to throw in some very artsy style with the costumes and the way the color of their attire changes as they enter different rooms. I didn’t even notice at first, so it’s a crazy effect. Then there is the music, which at some points is really annoying, but for a lot of the movie contributes to the vibe.

Plot: I wasn’t really expecting a plot when I watched this movie, but what I got was a plot that instantly took me into the movie. I think some things didn’t make sense about the movie, but the theatrical play like way of being told I guess tries to make this more exclusive to just these characters without getting involved in the outer workings of the city surrounding them. Albert also probably has paid off people so he can live in comfort in his life of crime. Anyways, people come to his restaurant despite the abuse he cast on them. I guess mostly to be on good terms with him. The development of Georgina is the one fascinating to watch though. She goes from meek and in this abusive relationship to be empowered to take action to finally enjoy her life. I think the nudity could have been way toned down though.  Call me whatever, I am just not a fan of excessive nudity and sexual content. I’m also not a fan of violence, but they keep that to more of a small amount. The fork scene was really disturbing though.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, Her Lover is one of those movies that is a rare good artsy movie. It put me in mind of Blue Velvet, except this one was better done. I just cared for the characters unlike that one. Helen Mirren really makes this movie the reason you like it though. She plays her character with a lot of heart. It’s one that is difficult to recommend to other people though because it does have some very morbid scenes and a lot of people wouldn’t be comfortable with it.

Rating 7 of 10.

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