Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
France/United Kingdom, 1989. Allarts, Elsevier-Vendex Film Beheer, Allarts Cook, Erato Films, Erato Inc., Films Inc.. Screenplay by Peter Greenaway. Cinematography by Sacha Vierny. Produced by Kees Kasander. Music by Michael Nyman. Production Design by Ben Van Os, Jan Roelfs. Costume Design by Jean-Paul Gaultier. Film Editing by John Wilson. Independent Spirit Awards 1990. Toronto International Film Festival 1989.
Peter Greenaway’s popularity went well beyond the arthouse circuit when this outrageous combination of colourful beauty and grotesque humanity earned plaudits from critics and a damning NC-17 rating from the MPAA. The incendiary impact of its content has definitely dwindled in the last couple of decades (full frontal penis, who cares), but the overwhelming power of its style is still potent, as is its explosive conclusion. Michael Gambon plays a successful gangster who takes his beautiful wife (Helen Mirren) to the same restaurant every night, a fine establishment of huge proportions that is brightly lit and looks like a storybook on the inside, brightly dripping in colour with all its inhabitants outfitted by (at the time) super hot fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. Mirren glances at a shy bookseller across tables and they begin a hot affair in the bathroom, which results in nooky in the kitchen before the gruff husband is on to them and they need help from the chef (Richard Bohringer) to escape. From there it goes darker places that culminate in an act of catharsis that is far too extravagant to be merely disgusting, but then the same can be said of the film. Food, sex, shit and blood are liberally bandied about on Greenaway’s moving canvas, expressionistic in style (Mirren’s dresses change colour to match the background when she goes into different rooms) and dripping with political allegory (something about the new money bullies of the Thatcher regime, or simply the all talk no action violence of male ego, but I won’t pretend to understand it). It is certainly not for everyone, perhaps even as a narrative it won’t suit everyone, but it’s sexy and exciting and incredibly original, and unlike many of Greenaway’s films has very few moments that drag.