The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (28th July 2021).
The Film

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

Richard Boarst (played by Richard Bohringer) is the chef of Le Hollandais, a lavishly large and atmospheric restaurant where he must abide by the new owner's strict demands in preparation and presentation. Albert Spica (played by Michael Gambon) is the mobster who owns Le Hollandais. A sadistic and greasy figure who is bossy and cruel not just to the chef, but also to his underlings as well as his wife. His wife Georgina (played by Helen Mirren) is in an abusive relationship with her husband who constantly harasses her sexually, mentally, and physically in front of everyone though she is no strong enough to break away from him. Then there is Michael (played by Alan Howard), a bookshop owner who dines nightly at Le Hollandais while reading. It is at the restaurant that he and Georgina start a sexual relationship, but what will become of them once the sadistic husband finds out about their new relationship?

Artist and filmmaker Peter Greenaway had made five feature length films and numerous shorts before "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" in 1989. Experimental in nature and far from being commercial or structurally traditional, Greenaway followed in the footsteps of abstract artists that challenged their artforms by introducing ideas what were not frequently explored. He had stated that most cinema has been a retelling of novels but in a visual medium, and that there was little to be excited about by its straightforward and linear structural state. His early features "The Draughtsman's Contract" (1982), "A Zed & Two Noughts" (1985), "The Belly of an Architect" (1987), and "Drowning by Numbers" (1988) were critical hits, with the last two nominated for the Palme d'or at the Cannes Film Festival and Greenaway winning the Best Artistic Contribution prize for "Drowning in Numbers" there. But this was only the beginning. "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" was bigger, bolder, more extravagant, more daring, and eventually more controversial than anything he had done on film up to that point.

The opening sequence set outside the restaurant starts off with inhumane cruelty of a man being stripped naked, attacked by dogs, pissed on, and left out in the rain. It's not at all a pretty sight in terms of what is happening though visually in terms of composition and set design, it is quite impressive. The rain, the steam, the lights, the tracking shot of the gangsters moving from the parking area and into the restaurant is carefully framed and evenly paced. Once they enter the doors, the camera glides within the restaurant from right to left with an invisible cut, revealing the elongated set that looks nothing like a traditional kitchen. Darkened corners with bold lighting, high ceilings, very wide open spaces for moving around, everything about the set says "this is a performance the audience is witnessing from their seats" like a stage performance. The set designs by Ben Van Os and Jan Roelfs are extensive in adding details throughout the large scale rooms that are unnecessarily big. The restroom that is elongated, the expansive dining area - almost every set is bigger than it needs to be, making the characters seem tiny in comparison. But the characters and their costume designs are not to be outdone, as the designs by Jean-Paul Gaultier are uniquely beautiful for each other characters. Not only are the costumes unique for each person, but they are also unique to each room, as in a slight trick on the eyes, the costumes of the characters change when moving from room to room. This is also accented by the color schemes being different with each setting. Bright whites of the tiles in the restroom. The glowing greens implicating freshness in the kitchen. The cold blue hues of the outdoor areas. The blood reds of the dining where the consumption of meats take place. Whatever people may take from the film itself, the visuals are undeniably unique and unforgettable.

The controversy of the film comes from the content seen. The cruelty of the mob boss towards others including his wife Georgina is very disturbing, as he has no trouble with hitting her, then grabbing her, caressing her monstrously, and somehow justifying his actions as right while his gang and others look on with somewhat fake smiles. Not everyone thinks the same, as the chef is a sympathetic person, who helps those receiving abuse when the boss is not looking. When the affair starts between Georgina and Michael, he is helpful in getting the two lovers to hide while Albert roams around screaming his head off. In addition to the violent acts, the sexuality is also part of the controversial nature. Though none of what is shown is explicit, there is both male and female nudity seen in both sexual form and in cruel form such as in the opening sequence. In addition there are a lot of uncomfortable scenes such as maggot infested meat and the climactic final feast which won't be spoiled here, but may spoil some appetites of viewers who see it.

The casting of the main roles is very interesting. Greenaway had a selection of actors in mind when writing the story and named the characters after the actors. Albert the mobster was written for Albert Finney. Georgina the wife was written for Georgina Hale. Michael the bookstore owner was written for Michael Gambon, though for the final casting Gambon went on to play the part of Albert Spica. Richard the chef was written for and played by Richard Bohringer, who was the only one of the four main actors that was cast in the preconceived roles. While it would have been interesting to see a version with the original in-mind casting, the four leads do a fine job with their parts. Gambon is pitch perfect at being insanely cruel and gross, set in his own world without the thoughts of consequences. Mirren in an unusually restrained part does well to keep her composure through the difficult times being in an abusive relationship. Howard's role of Michael is probably the most straightforward of all, as he is the most "human" character in the film, coming in from reality rather than the exaggerated nature of the surrounding location and people. His actions and his charm may not be very strong though and he might be one of the weaker characters in the film filled with odd characters. Bohringer does a fine job with the character of Richard, who is the most "humane" character yet is also slightly cartoonish in his actions and his demeanor of running the very unusual establishment. The supporting cast should also be mentioned as well, with Tim Roth, Ciarán Hinds, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Ian Dury, and more playing in smaller parts as well.

The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 4th, 1989, followed by a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival a week later, then the Sitges International Film Festival the next month. The film won big at Sitges, with four wins including Best Director, Best Actor for Gambon, Best Cinematography for Sasha Vierny, and Best Original Soundtrack by Michael Nyman. Opening theatrically on October 13th, 1989 in the UK followed by other countries throughout the year and into 1990, the film became the most commercially and critically successful films of Greenway's career, grossing $7.7 million in the United States through arthouse distributor Miramax Pictures. Although the MPAA originally gave the film an "X" rating (this was just prior to the creation of the NC-17 MPAA rating in 1990), Miramax decided to release the film in an uncut form theatrically. The controversy certainly helped with the word of mouth, as the sights and senses with lust and disgust places a great emphasis of arthouse cinemagoers to see what the fuss was about. "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" defies convention to send an assault on the senses of the audience members, who were delighted by the visuals as they were equally sickened by some of it, leaving a bitter yet unforgettable aftertaste. After all these years later, it still has the power to shock and inspire.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The transfer comes from Universal Pictures. Visually this is an incredibly lavish film, with the costume design, the sets, the lighting all having incredible flair. The transfer here certainly does the film justice with the intricate use of colors in the various sets. Blacks and dark colors look wonderful as well as the neon greens, reds, blues, and other bright highlights. The remaster looks very clean, yet without any instances of digital grain or enhancements to be found, leaving a very filmlike image, though on very close inspection, very minor damage can be visible from time to time. Overall it is a fine looking transfer to Blu-ray and fans and newcomers alike will be very pleased.

The film's runtime is 124:12.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
The original stereo track is presented in lossless stereo. Dialogue is always clean and clear, music and effects are well balanced, with stereo separation being used almost entirely for music and some effects. The score by Michael Nyman sounds excellent here, being well balanced throughout. There are no instances of hiss, pops, or other damage to the track. An excellent transfer here are well.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature.

Extras

"Peter Greenaway: A Documentary" (1992) (62:38)
This lengthy vintage documentary has Greenaway in Munich, Dusseldorf, and Amsterdam discussing about art, filmmaking, his career, his style and more, which is also interspersed with clips from his early works. In addition there is a lengthy segment on an art installation he produced featuring various nude models, plus a lengthy behind the scenes look at the making of "Prospero's Books", released the previous year.
The documentary was previously available part of the Umbrella Entertainment 3-disc DVD Peter Greenway Collection which included "The Draughtman's Contract", "A Zed & Two Noughts" and the third disc containing the documentary.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles


The film was released on DVD in various territories which either had no extras, or the trailer and basic text screens. It was also released on Blu-ray previously in the UK by Fabulous Films with no extras, as well as in Mexico, Germany, and Russia in which we don't have reliable specs. So it is welcome to see a lengthy extra included with this new Blu-ray release from Umbrella, though it seems like a missed opportunity as it barely touches "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" and there are no other extras included. No trailer, no retrospective interviews or a commentary, which would have been most welcome to see or hear. Fans looking for more detail on the production or the deconstruction of its themes will not find them here.

Packaging

This is the ninth entry in the "Beyond Genre" line from Umbrella Entertainment, which comes with a slipcase with differing artwork inside. Keep in mind there is a major spoiler photo on the rear of the keep case.
The R18+ rating logo on the front of the slipcase is a sticker that can be peeled off.
The rear of the slipcase states the disc is region B only but it is in fact region ALL.

Overall

"The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" is one of Greenaway's most celebrated works with its astonishing visuals, bizarre characters, and playing with senses by disgusting audiences while also bringing in a touch of lust. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray features an great transfer with the audio and video, plus a lengthy documentary as an extra. While more extras would have been welcome, this is still an excellent disc for fans of the film.

The Film: A- Video: A- Audio: A Extras: C+ Overall: B

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, amazon.de, amazon.it, amazon.es and amazon.se.