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The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989): A Review

The Setting: Greenaway and the Tri-part Stage

Peter Greenaway in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover takes his camera through an adjacent tri-stage setup, the cold foggy outside, the warm vibrant kitchen and the richly decked up banquet hall. While the first one displays cruelty, abuse and bestiality shamelessly (fittingly complemented with a pack of hungry hounds and stench of rotten meat), the third is a site of worse cruelty disguised in a masquerade of French etiquette. 
The central stage, the kitchen, becomes a
refuge, an oasis of human worth, (almost perpetually blessed with the sweet voice singing a hymn of redemption). 
The meat van, filled with stinking rotten worm infested carnage becomes the purgatory through which the star-crossed lovers must pass to reach deliverance. 
Deliverance, however is a myth in this world. The promised land becomes a site of disaster.
The final request of Georgianna takes the cycle to a final close. Greenaway makes us reach the site of masquerade to witness an act of vengeance, where Albert, the Thief is taken to a point of no redemption. The painting on the wall, strangely reminiscent of Rizzoli’s “The Last Supper” exudes an aura of deceit and violence against the purest souls.

Food: The sacrament or poison?

christ sermon on food
“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, . . . for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me.”​—John 6:53-56.

Interestingly, it becomes an enactment of Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, the sacrificial lamb transformed into food. But then, the act of Albert might have a disturbing Christian consolation : “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”[John 6:54]

The story, therefore, problematizes the possibilities and limits of redemption. How far can the holy water cleanse? It may wash away the dirt smeared on a slave by a cruel master, it may cleanse the bodies of the blood stained stink from rotten flesh, but when it comes to the blood stained soul of a murderer, the holy water is not enough.
The story is, therefore, not just about a humiliated woman’s sexual escapades assisted by a friendly associate. It is about cleansing the soul, stained and chained down in inferno.
And the chant of cleansing creates the background through a majestic refrain: “Wash me thoroughly from my inequity…

Peter Greenaway has indeed, created a masterpiece of dramatic excellence.
Please do watch for a visual gourmet and a spiritual ecstasy.


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