The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)
"What you've got to realize is that the clever cook puts unlikely things together, like duck and orange, like pineapple and ham. It's called 'artistry'."
Several years ago, on a whim, I plugged "draughtsman" into IMDB to see what came up. That was how I discovered The Draughtsman’s Contract, a film by Peter Greenaway. True to form I promptly started looking for other films by the same director—without ever having watched the first one! Apart from having seen The Pillow Book on late night TV, long before I knew who Peter Greenaway (or even Ewan McGregor) was, I still hadn’t watched any of them until now. A friend wanted to borrow The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and, since I have a vague rule (oft-broken) about not lending out a DVD unless I’ve at least watched it first, here we are.
Since said friend may well read this I shall keep this commentary spoiler-free.
First, though, a warning: this film contains some disturbing imagery (and the DVD case may well give some of that away, so best not to look at it!) I would go so far as to say that you probably shouldn’t watch this film on a full stomach (and those two pork cutlets I had for dinner first were a big mistake!) There were also a couple of scenes of violence that were almost cringe-worthy—and the wonderful Helen Mirren spends quite some time naked (as does "Her Lover", Alan Howard.) This is not a film for children (my DVD has a UK 18 rating, equivalent to the Australian R, and rightfully so) and you probably don’t want to watch it with your mother either…
That said … wow! This film is visually stunning. The sets are gorgeous, and the use of colour is amazing. Just keep an eye on Helen Mirren’s dress (or, indeed, Michael Gambon’s shirt) and you’ll see what I mean. I say "dress", but each of her several outfits were gorgeous, and the final gown she wore … I fear saying this may damage my macho street cred (such as it is) but that final gown was just stunning!
Most of the movie is set in a restaurant, a sumptuous locale run by the French Cook, and owned by the Thief. The latter is a brutish, vulgar, loud, violent thug of a man—the opening scenes make that quite apparent—whose treatment of his Wife would lead just about any woman to seek comfort in the arms of a Lover. And, in a nutshell, that’s your movie; a fairly simple story, gorgeously told—but with a few twists and turns that you may not see coming.
If you can get past the disturbing stuff, this really is a spectacle worth seeing. In fact, I guess the "disturbing stuff" is a vital part of the package, as the film juxtaposes beauty with ugliness at every turn. If nothing else, it has pushed the rest of Peter Greenaway’s films a lot higher up my list!