The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) Poster

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Recipe for Revenge.
nycritic5 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Peter Greenaway brought to the screen this visually striking tale of revenge centered on its four characters and in its 124 minutes he pulls out all the stops to make sure he not only dances over the edge of the cliff, but jumps right over and shows us the belly of the beast.

At a symbolic level, this may very well be the "thinly veiled parable against Thatcherism" that many critics have pointed at, and it's not hard to see. Taking place at a restaurant in which Albert and Georgina Spica (expertly played by Michael Gambon and Helen Mirren) dine day in, day out, always accompanied by Spica's entourage of yes-men (among them a young Tim Roth), Albert indulges in the excesses of food and berates everyone around him, including his mutely suffering wife.

The first scene -- as a matter of fact -- establishes the entire mood of the film. Albert Spica is seen outrageously humiliating a naked man outside the restaurant as the overwhelming stench of decay and the presence of wild dogs linger on. Employees from the restaurant shortly come and hose the man from the excrement he has been slathered in. What it is saying is, we are entering a world of moral and spiritual decay in which Those In Power abuse their positions to the extreme, as the observers only stand by and go on with their business.

These bystanders are the people who work at the restaurant. Among them is the Cook, played by Richard Bohringer, who faithfully serves Spica and his yes-men meal after meal and makes no opinion as they loudly banter about the difference between this dish and that dish -- essentially saying nothing worthwhile --, while all the time Georgina silently eats on, almost like a non-entity. That is, until she notices a quiet, intellectual-looking man, reading a book. This man is Michael, the Lover, played by Alan Howard, a man who does not talk but oozes intelligence. And it's this element which attracts Georgina's eye... and then more.

It's clear where Peter Greenaway is going to take us, the viewer. The scenes involving the urgent, dangerous lovemaking between Michael and Georgina are unspeakably intense, even in later scenes when they meet in the kitchen among the ever-present cooks and are getting more comfortable with themselves. Greenway's Spica becomes so completely menacing his presence overflows the screen. He commits acts of intolerable cruelty against anyone who stands in his way -- he is the Terror during the French Revolution, the Dictator from every country who has had one who will torture those who give of even a slight resistance. And once Georgina's and Michael's clandestine affair is brought to light, needless to say, all hell breaks loose and Greenway sets the stage for his horrific, stomach-turning denouement.

In Georgina, Helen Mirren has created a character that is deeply suffering, infinitely patient... and that makes her the more dangerous. That she has to go through so much pain and humiliation to make a 180 degree turn to cold, ruthless avenger makes her the ultimate heroine. Her foil to Albert -- an essentially one-note role -- also serves his undoing. Alan Howard communicates so much as well in his almost silent role, and in a revelatory note, I'll say this: their nude scene is one that is rife in sensuality and proves that one doesn't need Hollywood hard-bodies to make an erotic scene work.

THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER is not a movie for all tastes -- pun intended. However, it's one of the most avant-garde, intelligent stories that demands to be seen numerous times. I admire the lavish scenery Greenaway created for each area of the restaurant because it gives this extremely modern film a Renaissance feel and elevates its inherent symbolism. Grotesque but beautiful at the same time, it has a powerful cinematic language that has a style all its own.
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Among the most disturbing films ever made.
barnabyrudge7 November 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Let's say that you're an avid film-goer and you want to test your level of tolerance in terms of the type of bad taste, vile and disgusting screen images you can bear. Certain people would direct you to the zombie/cannibal movies made in Italy in the 1970s and if you took their advice you would indeed find yourself faced with some pretty unpleasant viewing material. However, such films are also very poorly made, with an emphasis on exploitation and somewhat shaky and grainy camera work. For an equally vile and disturbing film, made with considerably more skill and elegance (not to mention aspects of a Jacobean revenge play to please the intelligensia) look no further than The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. This movie is just as outrageous, nauseating and horrific as any Italian cannibal flick, but in a breathtakingly artistic way.

Michael Gambon gives a menacing portrayal as a vulgar gangster with a penchant for rich food. He is a regular customer at an elegant restaurant where he and his cronies, and his unhappy wife, wine and dine while exchanging tales of crime and debauchery. One evening his wife claps eyes on a rather geeky librarian at a nearby table; she fancies him immediately and before you know it the pair are embarking on a torrid sexual affair. Gambon discovers that his wife is having this affair so he has the librarian killed but his wife teams up with a cook from the restaurant to come up with a terrifying revenge plot.

It's impossible to reveal the details of the revenge plot without spoiling the film, but suffice to say that it is unforgettable, revolting and ingenious. Greenaway directs the film in his customary unique visual style, but the narrative is more viewer-friendly than usual in his films, making this one of his more watchable and entertaining offerings. The actors give great performances (brave performances, too, considering the explicit full frontal nudity they are asked to do). The music richly complements the scenes on screen. This film is remarkable on many levels but it's definitely adults-only stuff and even then it's not for all tastes. However, if you want something a little different and you're not afraid to be seriously disturbed, this will do nicely.
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The Divine Comedy
Minerva_Meybridge22 March 2001
Imagine the universe as a restaurant. The parking lot is the world. The kitchen is purgatory. The ladies's room is heaven. The dining room is hell. Hell is ruled over by Albert Spica, (Satan) excellently played by Michael Gobon. Dante is Michael (Alan Howard) a cataloger of French books. Beatrice, Dante's perfect woman, Georgina Spica (Helen Mirren) who is married to the devil.

In the beginning, the cook (God) in the real world is seen kicked and smeared and fed dog feces by Gabon. He is humiliated and in tears, but He endures and eventually helps to further the love between Howard and MIrren. Sex, in its pure form, is looked at as something sacred. Gabon lords over everyone in his realm with a tyrant's fist, caring nothing about anyone or anything. He wants two three things out of life—superiority to all other being, food and sex, while Mirren, as a reluctant Persephone, sneaks off to be with Howard. A couple of times Gabon even finds his way into the sanctity of heaven, but this is only short-lived.

The mood of the film is dark-black, heralded by brilliant reds or greens, and the tenor of an angelic child throughout. Every image is like a painting. Emotions creep in from all directions.

This is a film that would never, no matter what year it was produced, have won an Academy Award. It is too refined, to subtle, too sensual, too intelligent.

Watch it, rent it, buy it. It must be seen.
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"Bon apetit, Albert, that's French"...
Galina_movie_fan4 June 2007
Revenge has never been served so deliciously and artistically. The visuals, the costumes, the set decoration, the changing colors cinematography and the soundtrack in this darker than dark comedy are stunning - the grandmasters were working on the movie. Among them Peter Greenaway, first and foremost a painter and a fine one, his brilliant cinematographer Sasha Verny, his astounding composer Michael Nyman who used for the movie the incredible "Memorial", and Jean-Paul Gaultier who designed the costumes. It also helped that Helen Mirren (as the long suffering wife, Georgina who in the end will serve her husband very well cooked revenge) and Michael Gambon (Albert- the thief, the gangster, the embodiment of pure evil and the owner of the swank restaurant) were two stars. Alan Howard plays a regular guest to whom Georgina is attracted to and carries on an affair with in the restaurant's restrooms and later in the back rooms, with the help of the Artist-cook (Richard Bohringer).

Every frame of each Greenaway's movie looks and feels like an exquisite painting. "A Zed and two Naughts" is Greenaway's homage and admiration for Vermeer. "The Draughtsman's Contract" quite openly refers to Caravaggio, Georges de la Tour and other French and Italian artists. "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover", a fully realized vision of the director, a professional painter Peter Greenaway, is his tribute to the great Flemish and Dutch painters, Frans Hals, in particular. His large group portrait is constantly seen in the background of the hall in the London restaurant Le Hollandais that means "The Dutchman". I see Peter Greenaway as Hieronymus Bosch of the cinema, the creator of enormously beautiful, divine canvas depicting all horrors of hell that only humans can inflict on one another.
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Terrifically complex, terrifically beautiful, and just plain terrific.
miloc20 November 2005
Here's the weird secret of this movie: you might actually enjoy it.

Peter Greenaway once commented, "film is too important to be left in the hands of story- tellers." Like almost everything Godard ever said, it's a preposterous statement that ought to be heeded.

As a filmmaker Greenaway has always delighted in puzzle-pictures; from the twin-based symmetry of "A Zed and Two Naughts" to the subliminal counting-game of "Drowning by Numbers" to the mad frames-within-frames of "Prospero's Books" his films resemble nothing so much as one of Graeme Base's wonderful children's' books ("The Eleventh Hour" and "Animalia" for instance) brought to life. Plus, of course, a great deal of nudity and assorted nastiness-- enough to get the works of one of the most original filmmakers living a rather sordid reputation.

So, once you've recovered from the visceral shock of watching "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" the first time, take a step back and watch it again. Yeah, I mean that, do it. Look at it this time as you might a painting by Heironymus Bosch: what appears to be a madman's chaotic hellscape turns out to have a precise allegorical order, and contains such a wealth of symbolism that one viewing cannot possibly be enough to absorb it all. A scene that may seem gratuitously horrific (a naked couple enclosed in a truck full of rotting meat-- probably the moment that jolted me the most) in fact reveals a medievalist's precision (Adam and Eve, cast from Paradise for the First Big Sin, are suddenly subject to the corruption of the flesh). An abstract concept is thus made perfectly and accessibly literal.

Different viewers may prefer to see this movie as religious allegory, political screed, or wry class commentary. The fact is it is all of these, and probably more. The irony of Greenaway's quote above is that he is in fact story-telling on several levels at once. (It's the same irony in the comment that "Seinfeld" was a "show about nothing" when in fact there was more going on per episode than in any other ten sitcoms. It just wasn't "simple.")

In response to criticism over the bloodshed in his movies, Godard once said "It isn't blood, it's red." Meaning: it's all part of a composition, the way color is used on a painter's canvas. It's there for a point, just like Greenaway's explicit yet elegant shocks. With that mind, watch this movie, and enjoy it. It's sharp, gruesomely witty, and as remarkable to look at as almost anything in the Met. If you can handle really thinking, you can handle this, and we all can, can't we?
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Color changes everything!
Maurice_Rodney5 May 1999
The "inside story" of this film is color. Most professional reviewers, with nation-wide media exposure, missed this underlying story element entirely, as did I, until half way through my first viewing. Once I realized the colors of the costumes changed, as the characters passed from room to room, I had to go back and see it again. That's how I got hooked.

During the next viewing, I took note of the creativity and effort that went into the design and construction of the costumes, several times, as each one had to be rendered in several colors. The next time through, I noticed how the color of each room related to the activity that normally took place there, even in the outdoor sequences. With the subsequent viewing, I concentrated on the soundtrack.

From that point on, my awareness of all these elements, served to enhance my appreciation of each character and his or her contribution to the story line. That's when the much talked about "gross-out" aspects of the film seemed to diminish in their ability to shock. In fact, by that point, they seemed to fit much more naturally, although the "NC-17" rating is absolutely appropriate.

This is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears of intelligent "adult" viewers. Not to be missed.
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Albert's Special Treat
claudio_carvalho24 February 2012
The cruel and sadistic crime boss Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) has dinner every night in his restaurant with his wife Georgina Spica (Helen Mirren) and his gang. Albert abuses of his wife, his gangsters, the chef Richard Borst (Richard Bohringer) and the restaurant employees.

When Georgina meets the gentle bookseller Michael (Alan Howard) in the restaurant, they have a torrid affair in the restroom and in the store, and they are covered by Richard. However the prostitute Pat discloses to Albert that he has been betrayed by Georgina and Albert kills Michael. However Georgina plots revenge against Albert with the support of Richard and the victims of Albert.

"The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover" is one of the most grotesque, eschatological, bizarre and weird films that I have ever seen. But it is also absolutely original and mesmerizing, with intense use of colors, and with the contrast of vulgarity and art. Food, eschatology, sex, cruelty, torture, cannibalism and revenge are entwined along 124 minutes running time. The result is not pleasant and only specific audiences will appreciate this film. Last time I had seen this film was on 08 September 2000 on VHS. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "O Cozinheiro, o Ladrão, Sua Mulher e o Amante" ("The Cook the Thief, His Wife and the Lover")
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Greenaway's elaborate and ornate revenger's tragedy - a must see film!
ThreeSadTigers28 March 2008
With the Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover, Greenaway creates a self-contained world that is both a fabrication and abstraction of reality, but also an extremist reflection (nee, microcosm) of British society in the nineteen-eighties. The characters that he chooses to put forward to the audience as protagonists are archetypes of social and political caricatures that we would find in that particular decade; but heightened to conform to the over-the-top opulence/pestilence found central to the plot. His ability to craft characters and situations that resonate beyond the context of a particular scenario, coupled with his bitterness and unwillingness to conform is what sets him up as a satirist of serious note. He also elevates the film beyond the realms of mere art-house experimentation by fashioning a seriously funny script, which has ample opportunities for central character Albert Spica to prove himself the ultimate charismatic bully - part cockney hard man, part pantomime villain - who is never less than compulsively terrifying.

The plot is a simple construct centred on the theme of revenge and the need for personal freedom. This is mixed in with the socio-political undertones as well as Greenaway's many references to art, theatre, film and literature. It is also elevated by the impeccable cinematic qualities that we hold synonymous with the director's work. Everything here is about pushing things beyond the reasonable limitations; so we have a stunningly intricate set that is both theatrically simplistic, but also as other-worldly as anything from the work of say Gilliam or Jeunet. The costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier scream over-the-top chic, whilst often mirroring the use of colour employed by the production designers. Greenaway even breaks continuity by having Helen Mirren's costumes change colour as she moves through each room of the restaurant, so that we have a green dress in the kitchen, a red dress in the dinning area (inspired by Hitchcock's vertigo no less) and a white dress in the lavatory. It's an audacious move, but one that pays off in the creation of a completely self-contained world; something that is further established by Sacha Vierny's sumptuous cinematography and the wonderfully bombastic music of the ever-excellent Michael Nyman.

Some have clearly found the film's various abstractions problematic (yes, it is theatrical, yes it is occasionally shocking, and yes, it does evolve in a world of its own ostentatious creation). But it's also as artistic a film as you can get; a fact that some here have disputed. The reason that some define this as artistic refers to the use of colour, light and composition. The architecture of the sets too, and the way in which the production designers have chosen to dress them also adds to the artistic stylisation of the film. These factors are important to the narrative, as they are symbolic to what Greenaway is trying to convey, as well as what the characters are all about. Because of this, the design of the film becomes AS important as the framework, if not more so. But this film is more than a mere arty exploration; it's funny and intelligent and features a slew of great performances from a wonderfully eclectic cast. Michael Gambon as the thief Spica gives a grandstand performance to rival his own Phillip Marlow from The Singing Detective; hamming things up spectacularly but still retaining that much needed sense of humanity. The same can be said of the other principals too.

Mirren as the wife exudes a quite and restrained sexuality in what must be her best performance, whist Richard Bohringer as the cook is in some represents the linchpin/catalyst for the film. Elsewhere we find everyone from Tim Roth to Ian Dury popping up to give the film some added character and easily furthering the film's already cult appeal. This was a turning point for Greenaway; a move towards the more expressive, elaborate and self-contained style of film-making found in films like Prospero's Books and the Baby of Maçon and away from the more easy to digest classics like the Draughtsman's Contract, Drowning by Numbers and A Zed and Two Noughts.
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Want to spoil your appetite for restaurant dining? Then, watch this movie. It will gross you out! A discourse in disgust.
ironhorse_iv2 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen, because director Peter Greenaway's food porn movie is one film that is really hard to digest. It's not for everybody. After all, the film's putrescence, debasement and excesses (sadism, cannibalism, torture, graphic fornication, puke, and rotting fish and meat) and scatological themes (force-feeding of excrement, urination on victims) forced the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) to give the film, an "X" rating for theaters, and a NC-17 rating by the time of its video release. An alternative R-rated version was indeed made, but it cut out about 30 minutes of footage. Regardless of what version, you try to watch; all of them, ends the same way, with your head over a brown bag, puking. It's just one of those types of a movie even if the nudity scenes are not that bad. Without spoiling the film, too much, the story also written by Greenaway was inspired by Jacobean revenge tragedies and name after four people that the director originally wanted to work with; it tells the story of a successful criminal, Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) with expensive tastes having just bought a French restaurant, where he holds court nightly drinking the finest wines and abusing staff and customers equally, while his mistreated wife, Georgina (Helen Mirren), secretly has an affair with a bookseller, Michael (Alan Howard). However, things become more troublesome for the secret lovers as Albert find out about their affair, setting off a chain of violent acts over the course of one night dinner party, which the main cook, Richard Boarst (Richard Bohringer) cannot stop. While, this film is not as shocking or offensive as other films like this, such as 1975's 'Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom' or 2010's 'A Serbian Film'; 1989's 'The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover' did do something, besides having shock value. It was also somewhat beautiful metaphoric shot by cinematographer, Sacha Vierny. I love how Peter Greenaway and his crew designed this cruel, over-the-top, truth-telling film as an allegorical criticism of wasteful and barbaric upper-class consuming society in Western civilization (specifically Thatcherism and Reaganism of the 1980s). You do kinda see it, with the way, the cameraman shots people eating beautiful baroque style artwork of food, with their eating habits representing more like pigs feeding at a through, than proper dining etiquette. Its looks rather gross. Even the graphic sex scenes, while somewhat hot, are just as dirty. After all, porking near raw dead animals filmed with unflattering lighting isn't what I call, 'attractive'. Despite that, I love how huge and allegorical, this colorful restaurant is. It is a bizarre place, a mixer of post-modern pipes and medieval-looking cauldrons. Almost like a dream, of some sort. It's portray a sense of luxury and commodity to the point that it can be seen as a symbolism of Frans Hals style art, with the cook representing the artist, the theft as the forger, the wife as the populace and the lover as the intelligent circle. I also love how the kitchen and storage area (deep jungle-green), representing greed & decay, main dining room (hellish red), signifying blood & violence, the adjacent parking lot (dark blue) representing the coldness & death, and the restrooms (white) representing neutrality, and exactitude. It made a wonderful centerpiece for a Technicolor stage play with the costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier changing colors like a mood ring. You really do see the characters, reaction differently, with each location. The acting throughout this, is amazing, even if some of them, like Michael Gambon was a bit, hammy and Richard Bohringer, a bit limiting. They all have a part to play, here. While, some scenes in this movie can seem out of place and not needed like the singing dishwasher kid, Pup (Paul Russell), the spoon waiter, and the shirtless cook scenes that comes off as too bizarre and pretentious. For the most part, the pacing is alright, despite a few filler and padding. Another thing, great about this movie is the music, by composter, Michael Nyman. It's beautiful, stately, & elegiac, even if it's mostly a recopy of his 1985's 'Memorial' funeral piece. It remind me, so much of 17th century English composter, Henry Purcell in the way, it adds immeasurable depth of feeling. Overall: Although, it's not easy to sit through this surreal, somewhat avant garde film. It's also impossible to turn away from the screen. It's like a beautiful train wreck. You hate to see it, but can't help, yourself for taking a look. I can only recommended it, for people that had morbid curiosity about certain people's inhumanity. There is no fine dining here.
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Just don't watch it before you eat a roast lunch (very mild spoilers)
Jagged-1126 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
One can probably assume from the film 'The Cook, the thief his wife and her lover' that director Peter Greenaway has a rather warped view of humanity; he is nihilistic about society's future, abhorrent of Thatcher's regime and furiously condescending of the entrepreneurial upper classes and their exploitation of the workers. This anger manifests itself in the shocking scenes of violence and depravity contained in the film, which earned the film an X certificate back in 1989 and (surprisingly) resulted in the film reaching a larger audience than anyone anticipated (the film grossed over $7 million in the USA) and proved that there is more weight to the old adage 'no publicity is bad publicity' than one might expect. However it should not be forgotten that the film received almost unanimously euphoric reviews from film critics (or at least from those that didn't flee from the cinema) and is indeed one of the most brilliant, visceral, imaginative and unique pieces of cinema. It's not for all tastes, but those who can stomach it will be rewarded with a slice of delectable cinematic cuisine of the highest order.

The film's central locale is 'Le Hollondais', a restaurant of the most impeccable quality in every aspect. Night after night the restaurant is attended not only by an assortment of wealthy and decadent noveau riche, but also by low-level gangster Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) accompanied by his tormented wife Georgina (Helen Mirren) and a consortium of pimps, hit-men and psychopaths. Each evening Albert treats the dining area of the restaurant like his court, spewing out vile speeches of ignorance and bigotry, making unqualified criticisms of the cuisine and assaulting any of the other diners if they object to his hog-like behaviour. The chef (Richard Bohringer) despises Albert, but presents a façade of obedience and servitude to avoid any maltreatment from Albert and his cronies (much like the other dining guests, who exhibit remarkable patience with the revolting Albert). Georgina seems resigned to marital martyrdom, but also sees the ridiculousness of Albert's arrogance and pomposity (though she rarely contradicts him, he hits her with the exquisitely calligraphic menu when she does). However, one night her eyes meet Michael's (Alan Howard), an intellectual who sits quietly in the corner of the restaurant, delicately eating his meal whilst engrossed in his book, seemingly oblivious to Albert's loud displays of crudeness. Lightning (proverbially) strikes and with little hesitation the two make for the Ladies toilet, where they engage in a passionate tryst in one of the cubicles. And thus the cycle begins; each night Albert continues his rants and consumption of excessive amounts of food, whilst the cook assists Georgina in finding hiding places for her and Michael to make love. However the naturally distrustful Albert soon realises he is a cuckold and orders that lover be killed by having each page of his book thrust down his throat with a sharp spindle. Georgina, however, is able to turn the tables on Albert, which leads to the films shocking denouement where the thief receives his just desserts in a manner best described as poetic justice.

So what is the film about? Is it a darkly humorous political satire on our materialistic times? Is it exploitative pornography coupled with scenes of unnecessary brutality? Or is it simply a story about a cook, a thief his wife and her lover? This is not an easy question to answer; the film's political undercurrents are intentionally enigmatic and vague, Greenaway certainly isn't handing us the answers on a silver platter (in interviews he refuses to talk about his film's subliminal meanings) and we are left to our own devices to discern the films message (if indeed it possesses one). Whilst one could simply accept the film as an updated Jacobean tragedy mingled with the savagery of a Charles Bronson revenge flick, this would rob the film of its allegorical significance, which the film most certainly possesses (in a strangely subversive way). I personally tend towards the argument that 'The Cook the thief his wife and her lover' is Greenaway's manifesto for his disgust at Britain's social hierarchy; the excesses of the wealthy, their subjugation of the workers and their insatiable desire for (as Dickens's Oliver would put it) 'more'.

The quartet of main actors give performances of uninhibited power; they must metaphorically (and in the case of Helen Mirren and Michael Howard, literally) bare all. Each inhabits their character perfectly; the dour, soft spoken Richard, who subversively undermines Albert's authority by assisting Georgina in her sexual caprices, is played with model restraint and calm by Richard Bohringer (although his thick French accent is sometimes hard to comprehend). The part of Lover is less straightforward (he says nothing for the film's first 40 minutes) but Michael Howard acquits himself well to a rather limited role, the real tour de force performances, however, are delivered by Mirren and Gambon. Georgina's transformation from abused wife, to daring lover, to seeker of vengeance is perfectly portrayed by Mirren, she is the film's defiant heroine and earns our sympathies for her desperate plight. As Roger Ebert surmised so aptly 'Gambon plays Albert as the kind of bully you can only look at in wonder, that God does not strike him dead' he is the epitome of excess (gastronomically, egotistically, financially etc.) and lacks any redeeming features, but Gambon also has the talent to give a performance that makes us realise what a pathetic and (surprisingly) vulnerable character he is (though he's still utterly loathsome).

Upon its release many saw the film as a political allegory with the thief representing the tyrannical Thatcher, who subjugates the dutiful workers (the cook) whilst ruining Britannia (the wife). This behaviour is all ineffectually opposed by left wing intellectuals (the lover). Whether or not this is true, indeed whether or not you love or loathe this film, it is a powerful experience that will linger with you for quite some time.

My Score: 9 out of 10
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A Visual Melville
tedg9 July 2000
My introduction to Greenaway was `Prospero's Books,' which I rate very highly. I next saw `The Pillow Book,' which also was magic. I now delve into this earlier work, which is before Greenaway became master of overlayed windows. And also before he developed (at least in the two films mentioned) a clean sense of layering allegory.

In this early film the sense of allegory is simplistic, and the notion of narrative is largely abandoned. All in all, this is a cleaner film. Greenaway's fulcrum is the creation of a massive clockworks kitchen with dozens of concurrent, interrelated processes. Everything revolves around this, or more precisely the vision of this. Around this center, we see both vile and sublime forces acting on the kitchen, which is a sort of metalevel over the world from which creation emanates.

I suppose many will remember some of the more disturbing incidental images. Not me. I'll remember that extraordinary kitchen.
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A beautifully filmed, ugly and disturbing film.
timator27 June 2004
I saw this almost fifteen years ago and I still have crystal clear mental images of some of the scenes. The chef at his table in the kitchen, planning his menu: stunning! Put it in a frame, hang it on the wall. In the restaurant scenes, you feel like you're there at the table as the camera pans, without cuts, from one person to another. Our heroes locked in the truck full of rotting meat: horrible, disgusting, perfect. It's a classic purification ritual and it's literally putrid. Greenaway is a genius. My only criticism is a minor one. There is a full frontal nude scene of the wife and her lover, where he is clearly more "relaxed" than he should have been at that moment. I'm a bit disappointed in Greenaway for not showing him at "attention", as he would have been in real life. But then, I guess he would have been accused of making porn. Whatever. This film is not for everyone. My wife didn't see it. I'm sure she would have hated it if she had. For that matter, I can't actually say I liked it, although I consider it a masterwork. But I'm glad I saw it. I'll probably see it again, but not until I can see it on HDTV. Plain old DVD couldn't possibly do it justice. An amazing movie.
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An unforgettable piece of total cinema
onionhasayoyo7 November 2007
First of all, I have to say that this film is one of my personal favorites, and that it is one of those things one must see during his or her lifetime.

Truthfully, however, I first got into this film after hearing clips of the soundtrack on the Japanese version of Iron Chef, during a time before it was acquired by the Food Network. This film score, composed by the great post-minimalist Michael Nyman, is still one of the most haunting and soul-stirring scores in my opinion, if not the one of the most impressionable bodies of musical work ever. I still listen to the album on a weekly basis - it gets under your skin that way.

The film itself is a piece of total art, as others have said. The sets are saturated with their singular color schemes (blue for the restaurant's exterior, green for the kitchen, white for the restrooms, and red for the main dining hall) , and people who have any sort of artistic training have valued and will continue to value this film as a character study of color. In this present age where most films present their interpretations of visual thrill through costly CG and SFX technologies, this film is a testament to how color can be a driving influence behind effective set design and cinematography.

The principal actors, including the always amazing Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon, are first rate. Helen Mirren's Georgina is a truly heart-wrenching character, especially in the face of Gambon's portrayal of Albert Spica, a poor excuse for a human being and one of cinema's cruelest villains. The cook and lover are merely catalysts, serving to instigate the final act that is the undoing of Albert's overreaching tyranny.

I suppose the anti-Thatcher sentiment is highly applicable to this film, but since I am not a British citizen, I feel that I cannot comment on this. However, I think the film's allegory can also be applied to other scenarios where a brutish figure uses violence and exploitation as a way to control others whose primary fault is only residing in the same physical/social/legal domain as the brute.

In short, a masterpiece.
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Unforgettable and Beyond Brilliant.
tonymurphylee15 October 2007
'The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover' is a film about politics, cannibalism, vomit, love, death, betrayal, and torture. 'The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover' is part black comedy, part crime thriller, part horror, part film-noir. It is about about four twisted characters and a series of events that play out over an entire week. The owner of a French restaurant, Albert Spica(the thief), occupies it daily in order to stuff his face and beat on the innocent bystanders that surround him and cannot touch him. The owner of the restaurant(the cook) constantly watches in awe as Albert Spica humiliates everyone and talks and talks and talks, yet says nothing. The thief's wife, Georgina(his wife), is beaten, raped, and humiliated every day by the thief. She falls in love with another man at another table, Michael(her lover), and begins to have a rather passionate affair with him. What results is one of the most outrageous and bizarre films I've ever seen.

Peter Greenaway has created a film that is unlike anything that has ever been made before. It is a film that is so disgusting and dark and tasteless, and yet so beautiful and intelligent and fresh that it must be seen to be believed. All of the performances are unforgettable, especially Helen Mirren as the wife, in a heart wrenching performance. Michael Gambon is absolutely terrifying as the thief. People can discuss the political implications that the film implies all they want. I really don't care about that stuff though. Even if that's what the film is about, it isn't why I love it. I love it because it challenges me and a way a challenging film should.

The attention to detail in the set-pieces depict the one pertaining to the outrageous and decadent nature of our time and the times in which we live where the thief consumes everything and is wasteful. As a result, there is a genuine sense of true horror throughout the film. The graphic violence and sex only add the the dark nature of the depiction of a world, long destroyed by the greedy punks that have overrun the world. The punks in this film are much older than the ones that are usually depicted, and we the post-apocalyptic world outside for many brief glimpses in which there is a lot of fog, smoke, grime, and filth. We really get a sense that the world that is depicted in this film was once truly beautiful and open to possibility, and the fact that it is a world that is long gone makes the film far more tragic than we would usually expect, especially one with such grand texture and such a dark sense of humor.

This is the kind of film that reminds me that people in the film industry can still make intelligent, smart, and brilliant films without having to pile on the excess. The film works because it is not only effective, but it is also original storytelling. The film's use of it's set design only amplifies the way it is presents and gives the film even more meaning with it's vibrant colors and the way that each set piece in the entire film represents a different color of the rainbow. The music by Michael Nyman is simply one of the most chilling and unforgettable scores I've heard in a film. It only enhances the beauty of the film though.

While the film is certainly not for everyone, especially children(although it won't be easy for them to view it given it's NC-17 rating), this film is for the kind of adult audience who likes to think and not just be shown something that will waste their time. The content is really tame compared the garbage that is allowed to be played on public television these days anyway. For people who want to be challenged and shown a film that will make them think about the world in a different way than they normally do, It's a must see. This is one of my personal favorite films.
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Masterpiece of a film is disturbing, but also a rare bird that improves and changes with repeated viewing as more is revealed and the viewers perspective changes
dbborroughs22 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of my favorite films of all time. I don't know if its one of the best but it doesn't matter since the film is simply good enough to simply demand your attention.

The plot is simple enough, the course of a week during which a bunch of thugs take over restaurant and force its cook to prepare meals for them as proof of their good taste. Meanwhile the Thief's wife begins a clandestine affair with one of the other regulars, which is destined for a bad end.

Clearly artificial and allegorical I'm hard pressed to tell you what the film is "about" really. I don't think it's possible to come up with a definite answer short of having director Peter Greenaway tell us, and even then I could argue that would be wrong. Why do I think that the film isn't about anything? because I've seen it at least a dozen times and its never once played out the same way for me. Sometimes its a wild comedy of manners, other times a horror film, others an allegory, yet another time its pretentious trash. Its all of these things and none of them. Greenaway gives us clues and references, from references to pieces of art, to changing color schemes, to biblical parallels to others that refer to Thatcher's England. The film is packed with ideas that aren't always clear, even when you've seen the film numerous times. The film is about everything and nothing, its one of the few Greenaway films that touches the heart as well as the head (we feel for the lovers), which says a great deal (Greenaway's films more often then not are intellectually exciting but emotionally cold). I think the film is a masterpiece and a touchstone for where the viewer is.

Recommended whole heartily, with the proviso that the film has a graphic nature (violence and nudity) and is ultimately disturbing.
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Appalling, bizarre yet compelling black comedy.
Stu-531 January 1999
Warning: Spoilers
This film adds a new dimension to the black comedy genre. We're talking pitch black, Friday the 13th dark here. From the first scene to the last, it appalls and discourages. Yet it's strangely compelling.

It revolves around a trapped woman, engulfed by the wrath of her thieving husband, whose volatile temper triggers itself at any moment. She spies a lonely bookseller, and they start a dangerous affair together.

The thief then discovers the affair, and his anger is let loose upon the wife and her lover.

It's very over-the-top and horrific, the violence is graphic and the sexuality is explicit. The innuendo is terse and ribald, the comedy very film-noir. Those are the qualities which make the film so good.

Nine out of ten.
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Self-indulgence dressed up as art
jack_malvern10 October 2004
It's too long since I've seen this to do a proper hatchet job, but I recall thinking that it was needlessly difficult to watch. Art films don't have to be jarringly stilted, but this one groans under the weight of Peter Greenaway's constant reminders that he is AVANT GARDE. It's the film equivalent of a dinner party guest who spends the evening spitting in your food to show that he is free from the constraints of social norms.

There are elements - the class observations, long panning shots and colour changes from room to room, to name three - that show Greenaway's unusual talent, but they are overwhelmed by a tide of gratuitous overacting, overlong scenes and functionless dialogue.

The film is an extended metaphor for Margaret Thatcher's thuggish reign as Prime Minister of Britain, and the subject seems to have thrown Greenaway into such a frothing rage that he was unable to concentate on anything but the metaphysical.

Some people believe that the film succeeds because of its anarchic, freewheeling nature, but I think that is precisely its failure. Greenaway's reluctance to rein in the more self-indulgent parts of the film smacks of laziness and an inability to distinguish the benefits of experimentation from the dross it inevitably throws up.

It is as if he is saying: "Who am I to intervene in art?" Well, Peter, you are the director. You are perfectly placed to do so, and we really wouldn't hold it against you.
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Symbolism and art!
vdg31 March 2004
A play. A director. A crazy writer. Some more crazy actors. A perfect score. Mix them together, add a doze of Antonioni and Fellini, and you'll get this movie. This is not your usual film, and for the majority of people this would be `THE' craziest movie ever! But, for sake of art and originality, please see this movie with an open mind and take it as is: an expression of originality and creativity. The costumes, the scenes, and the cinematography are like from a play in the decadent times. Very intriguing transitions from one scene to another, changing the light/costumes/music all at the same time, but following the same scenario idea, makes you wonder if the director/writer were `awake' when they created this.

…or a better way of saying something about this movies: `it's a Greenaway'. You see a Dali painting and you know is by Dali, the same with this film: something that you'll always associate with Greenaway and his original way of seeing the world.

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Over-rated, over-cooked and over-lookable
Dave Godin30 October 1999
What a noxious little dish this is, served up with all the trimmings of Greenaway's apparently constant dislike of women, (first detected in THE DRAUGHTSMAN'S CONTRACT but overlooked by the politically correct as it posed as an `art' film), his `operatic' sense of self-importance, ideas lifted from other movies, (the changing dress colour previously happened in ORPHÉE in the late 40s!), and the somewhat infantile notion that `daring' and `shock' are somehow synonymous with `genius' or `profundity'. A squalid, sordid little opus that really tells us little more than the fact that some people find cruelty entertaining, and middle-class `intellectuals' still get a charge out of slumming. Monotonous, dreary, shallow and pretentious.
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Sick and degrading
preppy-314 June 2003
This film was released in 1990 in the U.S. and caused a bit of controversy. The MPAA gave it an X rating and the studio releasing it (Miramax) protested. They wanted an R and went so far as to take them to court. They lost the case but it persuaded the MPAA to issue the NC-17 rating for films too strong for an R. Such a big deal for such a dreadful little film.

Director Peter Greenaway sets out to shock and disgust his audience. He succeeds. The plot is pointless--Greenaway could care less about that. He just wants to disgust people. The opening scene has a man stripped, smeared all over with dog feces and even having it shoved down his throat! Incidentally, it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie.

The settings are incredibly beautiful, there is an array of very talented British actors (Helen Mirren--Why? But she did do "Caligula" in 1980 so...) and the cinematography is stunning. But Greenaway is constantly bombarding the audience with grotesque, vile characters (the thief) sickening imagery (some very likable characters are tortured, maimed or killed), characters being degraded in sickening ways, and tops it all off with cannabilism. If anyone protests this, Greenaway could always say--"Look at the setting, the cinematography, the actors--this is ART!" No, it isn't. It's just assault--pure and simple. Sadly, Greenaway thinks otherwise. As one critic said at the time of this film's release--"Greenaway's like a big bully--he throws you down on the ground and kicks art in your face". Exactly.

A sick, vile piece of exploitation. I KNOW I'm going to hear from Greenaway's fans but I'm standing by my opinion.
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Pretentious tripe
Leofwine_draca19 March 2013
I have a problem with art-house films like THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER and it's that the directors of such fare are often totally ignorant when it comes to decent film-making. Sure, they obsess over designer costumes and make-up, and they focus intently on the colour palette of their movies, but when it comes to movie-making staples like pace, character, dialogue, and intrigue, they fail.

Peter Greenaway is such a director. This controversial 1989 opus is known for its gruesome scenes of cannibalism, yet take away the controversy and there's absolutely nothing here to rate this. The running time is as slow as a snail, and much of it is made up of scenes of the repulsive Michael Gambon character berating his wife and associates.

Greenaway's a better director than he is a writer, because the script is terrible. We get the gist of Gambon's character and the situation with his wife in the first ten minutes, yet two hours of non-action go by in which we're bludgeoned over the head with his sheer monotonous brutish nature. The whole film takes place on a cheap-looking set that quickly becomes boring, Helen Mirren spends most of the running time naked and forgets how to act, and luminaries such as Tim Roth and Ciaran Hinds are wasted.

Yes, there are a few shocking scenes, yet cannibalism is dealt with in a much more entertaining fashion in both B-movie fare (such as Pete Walker's 1974 FRIGHTMARE) and Hollywood flicks (like RAVENOUS). I'm not against arty films where nothing happens, but there has to be substance to go with the style; Nic Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW is a case in point: one of my favourite films of all time, but hardly action-packed. THE COOK... just wastes a great deal of potential and proves to be another case of The Emperor's New Clothes.
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But... it's ART!!!!
1523114 August 2003
This contains spoilers.

OK... so some people think this thing is ART. I don't get it.

The film's basic story is old: a bored woman wants to escape her rich, dominating, unfeeling and unintelligent husband and has an affair with a poor but sensitive man. Husband finds out and seeks revenge. Wife retaliates. This plot line has been done MANY times. Yawn.

The graphic violence is gratuitous and adds nothing to the film's story except to over emphasize how brutal the world of this couple is, show how mean the husband is, AND to give the "enlightened" movie "critics" something to which they can point as evidence that this is not a film for the "average" audience. The violence is so overdone, however, that its shock value wears off quickly, and the climactic "banquet" scene therefore has no real impact on the now numbed audience. Yawn.

The cinematography, lighting, costumes, sets, featured art pieces, and almost all visual aspects of the film are spectacularly lush - but like a heavy, rich meal they tend to overpower and make one sleepy or not very alert. What the point of the color changes in the costuming between the dining room, lavatory, kitchen, and garage sets was meant to do except to work as a gimmick to wake up the audience - or give more fodder to the "enlightened" ones who wanted to claim that this was something only those in tune with "Art" could understand - is never disclosed. Yawn.

In the end, only those who claimed to be "enlightened" applauded the film as a work of "Art". The rest of us unwashed masses either woke up when the "enlightened" ones applauded or numbly sat in our seats wondering why we spent money and wasted time to see this "artistic" piece of trash.
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different surreal film
SnoopyStyle27 May 2016
Brutish loud gangster Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) had taken over a high-class restaurant run by chef Richard Boarst. He often takes his suffering high-class wife Georgina (Helen Mirren) and his thugs to the restaurant. She has an affair with regular restaurant customer bookseller Michael during their dinners. Mitchel (Tim Roth) is one of Albert's idiot thugs.

This takes place mostly in and around the restaurant in a semi-surreal world. Essentially it looks like filming a stage play. The camera style limits the visceral intensity despite the violence. It is something different and interesting. I am very fond of food porn. This takes it to another level in the different area code. The problem with tension is that everything seems inevitable. Spica is an one-note character. Georgina's affair is seen by everybody in the kitchen. It's inevitable that they would be found out and Spica's action is predictable. Georgina does do crazy original stuff in the last act but it doesn't feel satisfying. It's hard to feel for the character at first. It's not until the last act that her barriers come down. This is an unique film but may not be for the masses.
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The worst movie ever made.
triple83 December 2003
I've read some reviews and am so glad SOME people agree with me. This movie is awful! In fact I am giving it the award of:worst film ever made. What an honor! And not an easy thing to achieve either, with so many millions of movies out there. Yet, "cook,thief, wife and lover" has pulled it off! I've seen alot of films but never seen anything as bad as this.

Many have mentioned how disgusting some of the scenes are here. I agree, but mere disgust in a movie wouldn't be to bad as long as there was a reason for it. This movie went beyond disgusting, and the insult was it had no point to it, because the plot was standard only more vicious then this plotline would normally be.

Everything was elevated in this movie-the level of disgust, the meaness, the shock value-WHY? What were the filmakers thinking? "Let's make a film that shocks people and makes everyones' stomach turn"?? I doubt it actualy, but watching this your just left with that thought-WHY!!! This wasn't art or great filmaking, it was shock for shock value-big deal.

Whoever voices negativities about the violence in "Kill Bill" oughta have a look at this film because anything Tarentino does looks tame next to this and at least there's a POINT to Tarention's violence-the man is a genius and makes great films-Violent maybe but great-but seriously Pulp Fiction this ain't. It's so bad, I'm amazed critics-ANYcritics reviewed it so positvely and if I'm not "artistic" enough to get it, my loss I guess(not!)
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Is Greenaway a truly great artist or he merely seems so?
Andy-29619 April 1999
I saw this in 1990, shortly after it came out. I was eighteen back then, and the movie impressed me so much, I saw it three times in a week. When I watch it now, I realize how pretentious the movie is. It has some very strong visual works, but the dialogue and the situations are ridiculous, not to mention the gratuitous shocks Greenaway imposes on the audience. To the uninitiated, Greenaway seems to be a masterful artist, but the more you watch great movies by great directors (Tarkovsky, Kiarostami, Hou, Imamura, Godard), you realize he is more of an impostor than a real artist. And Greenaway's misanthropy means his films has no real insight on human nature, the characters in his movies are constructions not flesh-and-blood people. Yet, there is not denying the strength of his vision.
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