There are some things in life you just can’t prepare for: being pushed off a helicopter to fight a war you don’t know the first thing about, holding the tiny hand of a person who just came out of you, watching Peter Greenway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. Whether you’re going to laugh, cry, or pour gasoline all over yourself and light a cigarette, it’s just one of those things you’ll have to see for yourself.
The movie kicks off as mobster Albert Spica (picture Tony Soprano on a grapefruit diet) screeches into the parking lot of a five star French restaurant. He jumps out of the car and rubs dog shit on some debtor that his goons hold in place. Satisfied, he walks into Le Hollandais followed by his wife and posse, who are holding a neon sign that says “Spica and Boarst”. Spica tells the head chef Boarst that his restaurant’s name has been changed, and plugs in the sign as proof.
At the banquet table everybody’s dressed like there was some clearance sale at Renaissance Barn, which is fitting, because Spica gives off majorly monarchic vibes. Everything on screen is his to grab, prod, punch, smash. But there’s one thing he doesn’t have access to – class. As hard as the man tries, he just can’t get those French words right, can’t resist copping a feel on his wife at the dinner table or comparing her breasts to a cow’s udders. With a mouth full of Chicken Lorraine, he bellows something about how “eating and sex go together”, and he has no idea how right he is.
Spica’s wife Georgina resents the iron fist that he rules the dinner table with, and excuses herself to the bathroom where she runs into bookish Michael, who has that je-ne-sais-quoi that her husband doesn’t. Without much in the way of a verbal introduction, the two book it to the nearest stall for some vertical lovemaking. Lucky for Georgina, her husband loves this restaurant so much that they comes back every goddamn night of the week.
While Spica stuffs himself in the banquet hall, Georgina is getting seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths from her cultured lover. They fuck in a room filled with exotic French cheeses, please each other between fine cuts of meat hanging from strings, ravish one another next to rustic loaves of bread, and although the sex isn’t exactly erotic, it’s exciting to see these bodies posed anew among a variety of different food groups.
There’s one thing in this vast and beautiful cornucopia of earthy delights that Peter Greenway butchers, which is that although Georgina is sick of her husband, we’re not. Greenway’s got us rooting for the villain, for the fact that in his presence, a food fight seems imminent at a five-star French restaurant. Michael, on the other hand, is dull and hardly believable as an exciting partner. Truth be told though, you could pick at this movie’s character flaws for hours, but The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover is a feast for the eyes, and whether you know it or not, you’re hungry as hell.