Friday, March 25, 2016

Baroque Splendor and Savage Cruelty, or Thoughts on The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

 Michael Gambon plays an uncouth, gluttonous mob boss in Peter Greenaway’s visionary The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989).  Barking, feral dogs roam around the back alleys of an unnamed city as his gang assaults an anonymous enemy.  It’s not enough to intimidate, Michael Gambon’s Albert Spica needs to humiliate him as well with a variety of bodily functions.  It’s a hard scene to watch and literally the first scene in the movie, but it is filmed with such symmetrical perfection that the viewer is drawn into the story.
Michael Gambon is the titular Thief, a gangster thug with gourmet pretensions, and Helen Mirren plays Georgina, chain-smoking gangster’s Wife who married far below her station.  Most of the movie takes place in the cavernous kitchen or the theatrical restaurant that he has taken over.
The film is composed of Renaissance still lifes come to life, with costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier.  The wardrobe changes color along with the motif of the sets; a brilliant and visionary cinematic conceit that keeps the audience on their toes.
Artfully composed menus act as chapter headings, complimented by the splendidly baroque soundtrack by Michael Nyman.  It’s a modern fairy tale, a new circle of Hell filled with beauty and savagery in equal measures, an extraordinary film in a world where the sensual pleasures of fine dining and gourmet food preparation are juxtaposed against furtive, stolen love scenes.  It’s a visceral movie that does its best to assault the viewer’s senses with dog shit and rotting meat, but always set against the gorgeously baroque soundtrack and art direction.
Richard Bohringer from Diva (1980) portrays the Cook and Alan Howard plays the bookish lover who doesn’t speak a word for the first half of the movie, which is ironic as he was the voice of the Ring in The Lord of The Rings Trilogy (2001).  There’s also a very young Tim Roth who you just saw in The Hateful Eight(2015) and CiarĂ¡n Hinds from HBO’s Rome (2005) as members of Albert’s gang.
But it is Michael Gambon’s performance steals the show as the savage and violent brute, an uncouth bully, raging in the kitchen and the dining room like a homicidal King Lear.  It is reminiscent of Dennis Hopper’s Frank from Blue Velvet (1986) or Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast (2000).  His fury is hard to watch and yet the viewer is compelled, carried along by the force of his performance and screen presence.  He gets his comeuppance in a particularly gruesome and ironic way, thanks to the Wife, and the audience leaves the theater beaten and bruised, but oddly satisfied.


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.