Forgotten Friday Flick – “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”

Want a little five-star foreign film avant-garde experience for the couch crowd with added controversial kick – then welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick!  Can there actually be a film that captures colors and visuals that scream stunning, but is also immersed in some of the most explicit, disgusting, vile and downright jaw-drop shocking moments ever caught on celluloid?  If your name is Peter Greenaway, master filmmaking craftsman, it’s not only possible, but can be found at the local video store.  (Or available via the nearest streaming device!)  The title may be long, but the effect of the film will linger a lot longer, as we delve into the 1989 NC-17 classic…The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.

Titles can sometimes be deceiving, but story wise this one is dead on.  The Cook refers to French chef Richard Borst, a world class food expert who runs the lush and color stark restaurant Le Hollandais.  The Thief is uncouth English gangster Albert Spica, whose manners and vile behavior is only eclipsed by his foul way of speaking and acting.  His Wife is lovely and vibrant Georgina, a seemingly reserved woman who takes the brunt of Albert’s rage, though is secretly hungry for passion and romance.  And finally her Lover is timid bookshop owner and frequent Le Hollandais patron Michael, a well-read man who understands the gentle needs of a woman.

Playing out like a lush Shakespearean outing on acid, there is nothing normal about The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover – at all.  Right from the first few minutes where we see a man force-fed dog feces by Michael Gambon’s vicious Thief, we know this is ain’t your grandma’s stuffy English play.  And it only gets more poetically brutal and beautiful from there; raw restaurant sex, forks used as stabbing weapons, being trapped in a rotting food trucks naked, and even a pinch of cannibalism are just a few of the graphic highlights that awaiting the those with a finer palate for all things Greenaway.

But for all the bold bravado, Greenaway never stops his film and all the contents within from always looking their cinematic best.  A visual artist in every sense of the word, Greenaway takes great care in making sure each scene within the film has its own unique color (bathroom – stark white!), flair (the kitchen looks like a landmark!) and style (even disgusting looks amazing!) and when juxtaposed with the graphic elements makes for one arresting piece of cinema.  (Plus the music by Michael Nyman gives the film a distinctively operatic vibe – all unforgettable!)

Not to mention that his Greenaway’s cast is the crème de la crème of top talent.  Gambon in the role of a lifetime as Albert ‘relishing in other people’s misery’ Spica, Helen Mirren as the sultry and sexy Georgina, Richard Bohringer as the classy chef and even Alan Howard as the quiet lover all play their parts with such delight and gusto that it adds yet another color to the films already lush landscape.  (Plus there’s even some early appearances by both Tim Roth and Ciaran Hinds to boot!)

Obviously The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and it’s not for the faint of heart (I was shocked when I first saw it…and I’ve seen everything!), but even the squeamish have to admit that the film is truly something special.  Wicked, wondrous and winning, no other film carries such a grandiose gut punch right up until the final frame like this one does.  What’s the difference is between The Cook helmer and all the other exploitive gratuitous hacks out there – Greenaway makes this look good.  (Also check out his previous hidden gems The Belly of an Architect with Brian Dennehy and the trippy Drowning by Numbers!)



I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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