Thursday, 13 December 2012

Secret Lairs: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover - Review

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is a movie made in 1989, both written and directed by Peter Greenaway. It represents a romantic drama genre and tells a story of people who have been involved into dramatic events taking place in the luxurious restaurant called Le Hollandais

 From the very first minutes of screening the movie impresses with its colour scheme and theatrical form. The camera moves slowly in horizontal direction, introducing the audience to complex and overwhelming sets, each maintaining in one specific palette. Goldsmith precisely sums it up in his quotation: 'Together, sets and costumes establish a fascinatingly mobile color scheme' (Goldsmith, 2010), moreover costumes change their shades every time the characters move from one location to another. 
 The main events take place in four spaces with each of them representing different colour: the car park is colour blue, the kitchen - green, the main room - red and the bathroom - white. There are many different theories about the meaning and reasons of the use of these specific colours; blue is meant to represent the chaos of the backdoor yard, the gloom of night and danger when alone in the darkness, green represents the wildness and noisiness of the kitchen, almost like in the jungle, red is the colour of passion, luxury and lust and finally white remains neutral, innocent and sterile, just like the first meeting of the wife and the lover. The colour palette and richly symbolic details also represent the 17th century Dutch painting and refer to it by the name of the restaurant and The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company (Frans Hals) that hangs over the dining room. 
If one states The Cook, the only about food, rich people's love life and affairs, they might as well reconsider watching it again with different attitude and expectation. Greenaway wanted to achieve much more than just visual pleasure. In his production he hid symbols and as Ebert states: 'It is a film that uses the most basic strengths and weaknesses of the human body as a way of giving physical form to the corruption of the human soul' (Ebert, 1999), there's more to the plot that one might see when watching the movie for the first time. The opression of the artist under capitalism concernes Greenaway, and both the cook and the librarian represent creative people, suffering and being humiliated by the moneyed class represented by the thief. There's also the topic of women living in modern society, being sexualy abused and perceived as weaklings bound up with men. 

 In its theatrical form The Cook, the Thief...might not be considered as a plausible production but it is the truth that: 'Striking costumes by Jean-Paul Gautier and a haunting musical score by Michael Nyman augment the film's purposefully artificial execution' (Smithey, 2011). When the wife and the librarian begin their affair, they say no words. The situation seems innocent and abstract, indulgent even, the tension is growing but the viewer is starting to understand the emotions just by observing the actions. At some point the librarian tells a story of him loosing interest in the movie he watched, when two main characters started having conversations. It might have been Greenaway's well-planned action or simply the power of autosuggestion, that at this exact point the whole story starts transforming into a drama movie about many people's life issues. It no loger looks like theatrical play with no meaning or psychical values for an ordinary viewer. It's a production about problems that may affect every human being. 

Greenaway's The Cook, the Thie, His Wife and Her Lover is certainly a movie worth seeing and if not for it's esthetical and visual values, than for the story itself. It's convincing and well-planned, with amazing work from the actors and the whole movie crew itself. 

* Goldsmith, Leo (2010) online source: 

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