Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Film Club and Peter Greenaway

Peter Greenaway: genius or madman? Discuss.

Probably both decided the film club regulars supplemented by Dozybean and a quiet, sleepy Reuben.

Sunday saw a Millbrooker Towers screening of the great man's 1989 nightmare vision of food, love, sex and revenge The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. It's a visual feast of contrasting and frequently changing colours set in an unpleasant fantasy world in which gangsters rule and everybody else tries to look away and carry on as if nothing untoward is happening.
The cast is a glittering one. Michael Gambon leads with one of his finest moments as the dangerous, mad Mr Spica (The Thief) with his never ending stream of invective and ignorance; his performance becomes mesmeric as he dominates the screen. Helen Mirren gives us a beautifully understated turn as The Wife of the title. Richard Bohringer is entirely convincing as the wise man, father confessor, Cook. Bringing up the rear in the leading roles is Alan Howard, also offering a finely tuned performance as the bookish, tender Lover.

Support is offered by strong performances from, amongst others, Tim Roth and Liz Smith.

There are also hugely enjoyable cameos by the likes of Roger Lloyd Pack and the late lamented Ian Dury.

The whole thing is fabulously dressed by Jean-Paul Gaultier who appears to have been given nearly a free rein to use his considerable imaginative talent on some stunning costumes.

The action takes place almost exclusively in three locations: the restaurant dining room, the restaurant kitchen and the car park. Greenaway makes no attempt to make any set look realistic; there is artifice everywhere. We are left to draw our own conclusions about any subliminal messages in the setting. Is the stray dog infested car park the real world? Is the kitchen purgatory? Is the dining room hell? Just me guessing, but why not?

It's a disturbing, yet oddly beautiful film which Dong summed up rather neatly as a mixture of "The Long Good Friday and Death in Venice on speed". I'd substitute acid for speed, but otherwise Dong pretty much got it in a nutshell.
Will you like it? Should I recommend it? I'll certainly do the latter. You might not like it. But you won't come away from the experience unaffected, it's not a film that can be ignored, nor can I imagine anyone having no feelings one way or the other about it.

It's a work of art; "painterly" is how Halliwell's describes it. It's also gripping and powerful drama. Give the genius madman a try - you might enjoy it.

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