Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Film Review of "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" (FilAm Star, March 4, 2012)

It is probably safe to say that like any other Filipino, I love to eat. When I can’t get the food that I love most, the next best thing for me is to see it being cooked, prepared, and consumed on television or in the movies. It’s virtual eating to be sure, but it does have its scintillating and mellifluous moments for the viewing senses. I mean sometimes, you have to take what you can get.

A case in point is Peter Greenaway’s 1989 independent cinematic procession of radiant visual expression and artistic style, “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover.” This indulgent and splenetic film carries a certain prestige in the world of independent films as it prodigiously appeared on that scene right about the time of its hard-won emergence into the cultural and entertainment mainstream.

The idea of watching a grotesque yet illuminating beyond-the-ken movie that would give a whole new meaning to the idea of eating a course of gourmet fare might just be enough to open up people’s cultural and artistic tastes to the winds and ways of independent cinema. It all sounds ridiculously and occultly interesting, but don’t be fooled by my cinematic brinksmanship: “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” is to be taken seriously as a work of artistic, if outrageous, genius.

Greenaway’s on-screen caricaturizing of French cuisine feasting involves a talented cast of actors including the indelible English dame of cinema, Helen Mirren, and the impeccable Irish actor Michael Gambon whose raucous, verbose, petrifyingly-loathsome and menacing gangster-character flaunts his person and position in an unforgettable display of bottomless rage and boorishness.

Mirren, who was not all that well-known to American audiences in the late 1980’s, plays the Procrustean Albert’s (Michael Gambon) bored and unfulfilled wife Georgina. In a style and setting that is plastered with rich and subtly-phantasmagoric frames of color, Georgina, the long-suffering, middle-aged knockout, stops denying her sexual and romantic fantasies and falls in love with one of the regulars (played by Alan Howard) at her husband’s gourmet restaurant. The single biggest threat to their discreet, desirous lovemaking is Albert’s quick-temper and jealousy. Georgina and her lover will to their horror, discover that Albert’s retribution has no bounds.

“The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover” is predisposed to sexual tension and traumas which are fully active components in the film that lie beneath its maelstrom of thuggish, intimidating behavior and no-holds barred power relations. But rather than simply having his actors flail around in ritualistic acts of sexual copulation, Greenaway pursues sexual tension and passion in his movie as respective forms of domination by and resistance to power.

Greenaway’s film may not be for many one of the greatest independent movies ever made. However, along with the director’s other movies, it continues to bring public attention to the independent film industry with its astonishing creativity and interpretive arbitrariness. Greenaway, who always has plenty of ideas for living up to be a Welsh cultural impresario, shows us in “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” an alternative, avant-garde universe that is ever yet to pass its sweet prime in the hearts and minds of game movie viewers.

If you have the appetite for a gastronomic, cinematic delicacy that is also a sulky, lecherous model of the contemporary independent film d'auteur circuit, then you are blessed with the availability of Greenaway’s dazzling movie, a movie that is certain to keep you up at night thinking about what in the name of Jacques Pépin, Mario Batali, and Tony Soprano you just saw. Who knows, it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between literally-hungry, broad-minded audiences and the accumulated artistic cachet of independent film.


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