The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) (NC-17)

This review contains SPOILERS!
If "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" could be condensed down into one word it would most assuredly be disturbing. Frustrating might also work, but I stick with my first choice. The film, which has often been called a social commentary, follows a few characters and their meaningless interactions.
The largest presence of the film is Albert (Michael Gambon) far and away from the Dumbledore niceties. He is perhaps a mob boss, perhaps a professional criminal, perhaps symbolic of the upper class, perhaps just a really nasty guy. This man, and maybe it has to do with Gambon's stunning performance, gives the screen its nastiest villain yet. There has never been anyone I've hated more than this guy. He is not a villain that we love to hate, there is no redeeming quality to him. He's just disgusting.
His wife, Georgina (Helen Mirren), is the rose in his life, the one he likes to abuse publicly.
The opening scene to "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" has us assuming that there is something a little bit stagey about the entire film. A curtain is drawn back for us to see and then the curtain falls at the ending. The lack of scene changes, the massive tracking shots, the immensity of the sets themselves—it all points toward this being some sort of mockery. A grating farce that chills your very blood.
The first scene, which contains such monstrosities that will not be retold here, sets the tone for the entire movie—bad things happen to good people, at least when Albert is present. This is a greedy, temper-prone, violent man who always gets his way—always!
Owning a restaurant named La Hollandaise, Albert spends every night at his establishment, telling his goons how to eat gourmet food.
For as miserably wretched as Albert is, he really tries to be a snob when it comes to food; but his wife is the one with all the class. The cook (Richard Bohringer) always present Georgina little treasures of the culinary world because she has an appreciate palate.
One night when Albert is making a particular fool of himself, Georgina catches a man's eye. He's sitting in the corner, reading a book and observing the shouting table across from him. There's a connection between them which eventually leads to them sneaking in the bathroom to have sex.
They begin an affair, carried out under Albert's nose, always at the restaurant.
Indeed, a huge part of the film is shot at the restaurant in one of three areas: the dining room, the kitchen, or the alley outside the restaurant.
We follow the affair and the abusive doings of Albert over the course of a few days.
It becomes clear that something bad is going to happen.
We've all seen dramas where a character loses his/her temper and becomes physical. It's not pleasant to watch, but usually at the end of the scene there is some teary apology...not here.
When a kitchen hand gets unwillingly pulled into the marital problems of Albert and Georgina, the scene escalates quickly into a semi-rape format...if not molestation occurring, than certainly mental abuse.
This same boy is later force fed buttons from his own clothes and his navel is implied to be cut out from his stomach.
When you pair this to the degradation of the first scene and the semi-explicit sex scenes between Georgina and the book-reader in the corner, one begins to have questions why you would ever want to watch "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover".
There is something to the movie, I'll give it that. It feels as scathing as a piece of art can feel. Not only does the upper class become mocked because of the facade they are wearing, but their sheer existence plays out like a sexually violent and repressive act.
"The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" is a film that's hard to enjoy. Yes, it may be great because of how unashamed it is and what it is trying to accomplish; but this is definitely not a film you want to go see with mom and dad.
The performances are all great, if a bit beyond the film itself. It seems like the actors didn't quite grasp what they were doing.
The last scene, much like the first, has nasty cringe-worthy moments; yet there is a purpose being served.
If revenge is the point, it is a meaningless revenge; if it is about repression, this film is warning those who try.
The film probably merits a re-watch, but I'm not sure I'm up to that anytime soon.

Score: ★★★½

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