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The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover – 1989 Greenaway
- A giant “M” Masterpiece and prime candidate for the singular poster child of film art expressionism and the greatest mise-en-scene in film history
- Simply one of the most beautiful movies ever made
- There is a different color for each room— exteriors in blue, dining in red, bathroom in white, kitchen in green—some characters outfits change colors as does the cigarettes for Mirren
- The Hals painting, tapestry here is gorgeous and copied by Greenaway- he does this, with painting and art in every film
- The costume are stunning- Jean-Paul Gautier—pure expressionism
- The Nyman score is haunting and probably his best (he always works with Greenaway and did the piano as well)
- It’s political- a meditation on Thatcher and Reagan regime, greed—
- It’s a colossal triumph for Gambon. His diction in the film is a marvel—he and his Albert are connected to Hopper/Lynch’s Frank Booth in Blue Velvet for sure
- Ebert calls the film “uncompromising in every single shot”
- Like all of Greenaway’s work we have an abundance of nudity and sexual curiosity bordering on perversion
- It’s a wonder of color, tinting, and staging
- Greenaway uses a series of tracking shots through the building—they’re sublime
- Mirren (wife) and lover have a silent love affair to begin the film and for the longest time Gambon is the only one talking
- In the outdoor scene there are two trucks, symmetrically set up, with open backs and detailed staging
- There is different music in every room—we have the child singing opera, Nyman’s score stronger in the red dining area and lighter in the white bathroom
- Dogs running around like crazy outside also park of the politics
- Certainly harkens to the tinting by Hitchcock in vertigo and some of the work by Bava in blood and black lace and later Argento in Suspiria
- Gambon has never been better
- Mirren’s achievement is a tad lower but only slightly, her talking to her lover’s crying corpse is a great scene- wow
- One of the ritual deaths (another Greenaway trait) has a man (the lover) literally killed with pages of a book
- It’s intellectual and operatic, stylistically and formally perfect (days of the week on the menu with great detail)
- A huge masterpiece
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Great Review. TSPDT doesn’t really like this heh. Down to 879. That’s poor.
@AP — haha yeah Greenaway and this film in particular is an example I bust out whenever someone accuses me of just following the critics. I’ve seen it 3 times and have been more impressed each time. Anyone who doesn’t think this is a masterpiece is using some sort of criteria I would disagree with.
This film is an underrated masterpiece. Upon first viewing, in the first half of the film I found myself very upset on the weighty and harsh themes of the movie, and while I admired the visual artistry, I was certain I wouldn’t watch it again. And then, as the movie progressed, it became increasingly more brilliant. Now I’m 100% sure I will. First of all, it’s absolutely stunning, the colour palette, the costumes, the decor is all perfect. I haven’t seen such dedication to visual styling and attention to detail since the last Wes Anderson movie I watched, and I think that he has very rarely accompanied it with so impressive character work.
Gambon is tremendous here. The degree to which I detested his character and was disgusted by him is only telling of his performance’s quality. He reminds me of Elizabeth Taylor’s wordy and sadistic Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – a virtuoso performance. But Mirren has no small achievement either; she works with precision and great subtlety, while the moments where less poise and more vulnerability is required are also excellently delivered. It’s really something, the way she manages to fully flesh out her character with not even half as many words as Gambon (though hers are much more meaningful, when spoken).
Despite its depiction of abuse that drives the plot, the film really makes a statement about authoritarian regimes. Gambon is a tyrant. Nobody is objecting to him and the tolerance toward his deplorable behaviour goes to show that he is above law, essentially he is the law. (Spoiler alert) Georgina and Michael are outcasts, forbidden lovers, refugees seeking protection (as shown when they flee in a truck), and by the end of the film, revolutionaries. The finale makes for the climax of this great artistic achievement. The dictator’s downfall and the revenge of the oppressed is cruel, cold and uncompromising. “Eat, Albert.” Brilliant.
PS: @Drake- I accidentally posted this as a reply to your comment.
@Georg — thanks for sending this. What a great write-up– a nice addition to the page. I like the Wes Anderson comparison with mise-en-scene, color, symmetry– detail.
Sorry, I revisited this page because I really needed to ask – you mention above that the dogs running around is something of a symbolism in the context of political allegory. What was it? I really have a hard time with this one – for the most part, the film is not so difficult to decode when it comes to critique, but here I can’t seem to find anything. I’ve searched for what dogs stand for in a political landscape but honestly there is nothing to be found. Perhaps they symbolise the avid mind controlled supporters of the regime, since dogs tend to be blindly loyal to their owners. But I’m not sure. I am aware of all the criticism against Thatcher found in the film, but I’m not British and even though I do know some general information and read some things about her tenure, I don’t know if there is any relation between her politics and dogs (some kind of satire at the time? Maybe a certain approach toward actual dogs and stray dogs?). So yeah, I really wanted to ask that.
@Georg- I’m open to being corrected by someone– but my interpretation was the political climate yields a dog-eat-dog sort of nihilistic world– as simple as that
@Drake- thank for the clarification. Sounds perfectly valid to me. It seems as a very logical interpretation, considering what Thatcher represented, especially through the eyes of Greenaway.
This film is supposed to be #874 on TSPDT? What absolute trash and highly indicative of its rejection of genre cinema. Easily one of the worst rankings on the site.
I could hardly believe what I was watching: the mise-en-scene, the lighting, the color, the camera movement, the acting, the music, the overall direction, the everything. You mentioned its similarities with Blue Velvet but I felt they didn’t just pertain to Hopper and Greenaway; the whole narrative is influenced with the love triangle-but-with-a-psychopath story, the usage of color, and even stylistically, such as both having a jump cut at the end of some of their climactic scenes, in Blue Velvet that being the “In Dreams” scene and in The Cook, the Thief that being the scene of Michael’s killing. Both put music to great use as well, and end with the villain being shot in the head, albeit by different characters. I could probably come up with a few other things if I felt like it but I should be going to sleep about now. I’m happy I watched this film, though I certainly wouldn’t use that word to describe it.
Well one can understand why the critics do not have it in high esteem.
Greenaway has a very very very intense nihilism, just watch the final scene haha.
Unless you are Kurosawa, the critics are going to murder you for your nihilism.
Not that i agree with the critics, i’m just pointing it out, just go see metacritic
@Aldo- I think this is a good point overall. There are exceptions (Haneke has great reviews always he’s pretty nihilistic)— Greenaway is also very unsubtle– he uses a blunt instrument, that doesn’t always sit well with critics (which is a shame)
Caught my 1st viewing, I cannot think of many films that are simultaneously so beautiful and so repulsive. The lighting, use of color, set pieces were gorgeous, when I first saw the restaurant I thought of Ernie’s from Vertigo, that shade of red.
Gambon was excellent, his command of the room was tremendous. I think Bob Hoskins would have been interesting but zero complaints. Gambon is a very different type of British bad guy from the suave Bondesque style villains, he truly had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, just a grotesque animalistic man with no limits. Came across an interesting YouTube video breaking down his character, provides an interesting view as it focuses on human consumption related to wealth, disposable income, comfort, etc.
@James Trapp- agreed, Bob Hoskins would have been interesting! good call
I watched this movie for the first time a month or 2 back with a friend, and we had completely different reactions.
I thought it was a clear masterpiece, one of the most beautiful and original movies I have ever seen with a finale so satisfying it almost edges out Inglourious Basterds or Shawshank Redemption (for the most satisfying ending). But my friend, he didn’t hate it, but he really really disliked it (he thought it was the most “fucked up movie” ever made (I think is Requim) and he gave it 3 stars on Letterboxd instead of 5 that I gave.
It was certainly a memorable experience.
@RujK – it’s the kind of film some may not enjoy but you certainly can not claim its boring or uninteresting even if you find it to be as your friend put it a “f**ked up movie”.
I mean it really is both beautiful and revolting at the same time.
@James Trapp I totally agree. The next day I watched it again.