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Anchor Bay presents

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

"What you've got to realize is that the clever cook puts unlikely things together, like duck and orange, like pineapple and ham. It's called 'artistry'. You know, I am an artist the way I combine my business and my pleasure: Money's my business, eating's my pleasure and Georgie's my pleasure, too, though in a more private kind of way than stuffing the mouth and feeding the sewers. Though the pleasures are related because the naughty bits and the dirty bits are so close together that it just goes to show how eating and sex are related. Georgie's naughty bits are nicely related, aren't they, Georgie?"- Albert (Michael Gambon)

Stars: Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon
Other Stars: Richard Bohringer, Alan Howard
Director: Peter Greenaway

MPAA Rating: NC-17 for (language, nudity, sex, brutality and indigestion)
Run Time: 02h:04m:00s
Release Date: 2001-02-27
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A-A-A- C-


DVD Review

As the curtains open, a pack of dogs sniff out and fight over rotted bits of discarded meat in a restaurant parking lot. We know at once that Chef de cuisine Peter Greenaway returns to analyze the food chain (A Zed and Two Noughts) in another sumptuously beautiful and profoundly gruesome feast he calls The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.

Le Hollandaise is an impossibly grandiose and elegant restaurant, visited nightly by its new owner, Albert Spica (Gambon). Albert is a king of thieves; a coarse, despicable man with impeccable taste. Each evening's display of his despotic rule of this palatial restaurant—and its patrons—is a tasteless intermezzo (make mine champagne sorbet, please). Bound to him are a motley group of underlings, and his brutalized wife, Georgina (Mirren), who populate his table and amuse him with their sufferings.

Albert's downfall is that he adores his wife even as he abuses her. Georgina finds any and every means to escape him, even momentarily, and often visits the restroom for a smoke. When the bookish Michael, a regular patron who always dines alone, chances upon her in the back hallway, the pair begin a passionate and perilous affair "right under his nose." With the help of the cook, the thief's wife and her lover sate each other in between courses, from a bathroom stall to the larder to the fully laid pantry, until the night Albert is apprised of his wife's betrayal. The lovers manage to evade him (in the most palpably disgusting conveyance imaginable) for an all-too-brief respite, catered by the cook.

Greenaway is the Picasso of cinema, an iconoclast steeped in the traditions of his medium who strives to destroy the boundaries by intellectually dissecting the rules. Like Picasso, Greenaway turn beauty into horror, horror into beauty, and succeeds beyond ordinary comprehension. As with all his films, every scene is painfully perfect; every frame a painterly visual that awes, disgusts, violates and transcends the viewer. This physiological dichotomy is madness and brilliance and mesmerizes this reviewer so that I can not look away no matter how grotesque the image becomes.

Lighting serves as the underpainting of key sets upon which Greenaway builds intricate and elaborate tableaux, layering voluptuous foodstuffs, floral arrangements, table settings, kitchen cutlery—and the people using them—to create the most impressively lavish depth-of-field effects. The sous chef rapidly and deftly chopping various vegetables, the blade held properly yet dangerously close to his own flesh as Albert roars destructively through the kitchen in search of his wife is, simply, inspired genius.

Helen Mirren is fearless as the desperately unhappy Georgina, a wickedly unexpected performance for those who know her best as the hard-driven Jane Tennison of Masterpiece Theatre's Prime Suspect. Michael Gambon is believably cruel as the violent, egomaniacal Albert, whose extravagance knows no bounds. Gaultier's costumes are fabulous and, as ever, Michael Nyman's score is masterfully incorporated into the film like a fourth primary color.

At this point, I should say "not for the squeamish" but there is no one more squeamish than I am. Any discomfort is surmounted by the elegance of craft and style laid before us.

Mes compliments au chef.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: What a delight to have a Greenaway film put to a worthy transfer. The soft, organic green of the kitchen, the gluttonous red of the dining room and the cruel neon blue of the restaurant's exterior come off brilliantly. The anamorphic image shows details that are sharp and lively; fleshtones are correct in every situation. The edible food looks good enough to eat; that not suitable for consumption appears so realistically foul I was physically nauseous. Extremely effective and well done.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Greenaway's longtime collaboration with composer Michael Nyman is a lesson most directors can learn from. Even in this 2.0 treatment, visual and aural images come together in a single masterstroke. Dialogue is crisp and well balanced; from roars to whispers, an impressive job.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Single-fold booklet
Extras Review: Anchor Bay provides two theatrical trailers in widescreen, both in excellent condition, as the only additional features on this disc. The single-fold booklet contains brief statements by the four main players and a few production notes. Creative minds can imagine such supplemental material as an essay on Jacobin theater, extended cast & crew information (particularly director of photography, Sacha Vierny), transcripts of any one of Peter Greenaway's many discourses or interviews and so forth.

Visual themes from the film are well-presented in the menus and are appropriately seductive.

Extras Grade: C-

Final Comments

Shot within the framework of a Jacobin stage play, the director of The Draughtsman's Contract draws once more from England's Restoration era to bring his gorgeous and offensive visuals into the late 20th century. Any fan of cinema will want this in their collection to view both the exquisite and repulsive details again and again.

debi lee mandel 2001-04-29