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The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover. Matt Dutton. Background. Directed by Peter Greenaway British-French romantic crime drama Released Nov. 1, 1989 (France); April 6, 1990 (US) Distributed by Palace Pictures (UK); Miramax Films (US) Box Office: $7,724,701. Background.

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Presentation Transcript
  • Directed by Peter Greenaway
  • British-French romantic crime drama
  • Released Nov. 1, 1989 (France); April 6, 1990 (US)
  • Distributed by Palace Pictures (UK); Miramax Films (US)
  • Box Office: $7,724,701
  • Criticized for its graphic scatological (gruesome display of excrement, violence and nude scenes
  • Praised for its lavish cinematography and formalism by contemporary reviewers
  • 124 minute cut originally intended to be rated X
  • Cut down to 94 minutes for R-rated theatrical release
  • Despite controversies, film has received generally positive reviews from critics
  • Political: Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Thatcherism
  • Sadism: Excrement, Cannibalism; Rot
  • Aesthetics: Colors, Costumes, Still Paintings
  • Biblical: New Testament: Psalm 51 and The Last Supper
  • Social Problems: Greed, Conflict between Creativity and Consumption, Consumerism
  • Not adapted from any single play
  • Greenaway claims to have modeled film after classic revenge tragedies of the English Jacobean Theatre
contemporary review
Contemporary Review
  • Leonard Quart reviewed film in 1990 for the magazine Cineaste
  • Identified film as a political satire meant to rebel against the policies of Margaret Thatcher (Thatcherism)
  • Greenaway structures characters to help portray his message
  • Albert is meant to represent the negatives of Thatcherism and Capitalist society
  • Reason why Albert is given the most lines and is a disgusting, vile man
  • Quart claims that ultimately Greenaway created a film that is more style than substance and is empty at its core; fails to accurately depict political message
cineaste review
Cineaste Review
  • “What accounts for the success of The Cook…is that, on its surface, the film is a shocking work. It contains a great many sensational elements, opening with a with a man being smeared with shit and urinated on by a gang of thugs and moving on to explicit sex and nudity, sadistic beatings and mutilation, murder, and finally, gourmet cannibalism…Greenaway’s cool, detached style estheticized most of the film’s violence and titillated and excited rather than alienated a large portion of its audience.”
  • Of course, since Greenaway’s film is a fable with political implications, it need not provide detailed motivation for its characters. But viewed as a political parable, and Greenaway states that The Cook…is suffused with his ‘anger and passion about the terrifying pejoratives done to the political life in Great Britain by this wretched Mrs. Thatcher…The Cook…clearly means to have political and social implications, but its real distinction lies in its form… Greenaway may think that ‘art should take on the issues,’ confront and outrage people. His work, however, never gets beyond its coolly exhilarating surfaces to truly disturb a viewer’s moral vision.”

-Leonard Quart

political message
Political Message
  • “Michael Walsh characterizes the film’s political critique as an ideologically fashionable liberal reaction to the excesses of the 1980’s, unsupported by a historical understanding of British politics. ‘The proletarian monster central to The Cook suggests that this film has joined in Thatcher’s vengeance on the imagined values of the lower social order.”
    • Ruth D. Johnston “The Staging of the Bourgeois Imaginary in The Cook…”
  • “The problem with such analyses is that in their attempts to relate the film to British politics, Quart and Walsh, among others, fail to realize that its formal concerns and social criticism are inextricable. ..Because of his political affinities with international modernism, Greenaway does not engage in a head-on confrontation with Thatcherism as a ‘political filmmaker’; rather, his political critique proceeds from a ‘less explicit artistic position”
    • Johnston
politics cont
Politics (Cont.)
  • “The artifice that most potently evokes the full dimensions of the economic recession affecting Britain under Thatcher is probably the uncanny, eerie atmosphere of the film. It is against such a background of inner-city degeneration, violence and crime that the threat of Fascism (epitomized by Mr. Spica and his cronies) becomes a real peril. Fascism and economic recession together are what render transparent many otherwise opaque or hidden connections, which make up some of the key themes of the agenda on the radical right...The fact that the decadent, upper-class customers are utterly indifferent to Mr. Spica’s tumult and disruption in the restaurant also suggests the extent to which a sector of society passively colluded with Thatcher’s famously insensitive politics.”
  • Chantal Cornut-Gentille-D’Arcy “The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover
  • “Trained as a painter, Greenaway has a wonderful eye and his films are always imaginately composed- particularly striking in their use of décor and color…clothing style, a study in red and black, is imitated by Albert and his hoods as if they’re attending a masquerade party.”
    • Quart
  • “For me, film has a modern way of painting pictures”
    • Greenaway
  • “The painterly effects are furthered by color coding the various rooms. The threatening dining room is blood-red; the bathroom where Michael and Georgina first make love is a dazzling white on white…It’s all extremely lavish and sensual- even the shot of maggots devouring rotten meat…For a director who supposedly inveighs against consumerism and greed, he obviously takes a great deal of pleasure in both the munificent and the corrupt.”
    • Quart
aesthetics cont
Aesthetics (Cont.)
  • “The film’s pictorial references must be examined from this double perspective. Probably the Frans Hals painting…which dominates the principal setting of the film, Le Hollandais restaurant, most clearly links formal and sociopolitical concerns.”
    • Johnston
  • “Setting in this film does not function as mere background . The film sets up a structure of imitation in relation that does not function in an unidirectional way. That is to say, the feasting Haarlem corps is a representation of conspicuous consumption duplicated by Spica and his gang.”
    • Johnston
  • “The two lovers are edenic projections in the recurrent nakedness. Various recesses of the kitchen where their love-making goes on turn into a lush primeval world lit in blues and greens, while their forced exodus into the foggy meat freezer, followed by the meat van packed with rotting meat and crawling with vermin, appropriately signal the suffering and hostility of the post-fall world.”
    • Beatrice Fink “Sadeansavouries in Peter Greenaway’s The Cook…”
  • The New Testament may be read into the film’s final scenes when Michael the lover’s death quite literally turns into a cleverly wrought transfiguration, while the Miserere theme music, a non-verbal language of sorts, often speaks louder than words. Given the film’s spectacular climax, it is tempting to title it The Last Supper.
    • Fink
  • “Greenaway stresses the all-pervading presence of eating and digesting (or indigesting) as being an image of human corporeality, with cannibalism- ‘perhaps the furthest obscenity practiced on one human being to another.’ Elsewhere he states that The Cook…functions as ‘a metaphor about the conflict between creativity and consumption, and the way they are destabilized by desire and excess.’
  • “In the film’s grand finale, there is a dramatic role reversal in which the formerly victimized Georgina turns persecutor and executioner. This is Sade with an edifying ending.”
    • Fink
  • Fink relates Greenaway’s film to the works of Marquis de Sade; a French aristocrat, politician and writer
  • Sade was famous for his liberal sexual beliefs, violence coupled with sexuality and an emphasis on forgoing morality
  • “The ways in which the film’s food and meals become discursive again lead us to Sade, one should keep in mind Greenaway’s libertines, if that term may be applied to Albert and his cronies, are weaklings…Albert is a bully who inflicts suffering on his victims, but who, in many ways, is straight, despite being a thief.”
    • Fink
  • Quart, Leonard. "Review: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover." Cinéaste 18.1 (1990): 45-47. JSTOR. Web. JSTOR
  • Fink, Beatrice. "SadeanSavouries In Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover." Paragraph 23.1 (2000): 98. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
  • Johnston, Ruth D. "The Staging of the Bourgeois Imaginary in "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" (1990)." Cinema Journal 41.2 (2002): 19-40. Web. JSTOR
  • Black, Fiona C. "A Miserable Feast: Dishing Up the Biblical Body in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover." Biblical Interpretation: A Journal of Contemporary Approaches 14.1 (2006): 110-26. Print.
  • D'Arcy, Chantal. "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover." Literature Film Quarterly 27.2 (1999): 116. Academic Search Premier. Web.