FILMnCrimes andnPunishmentsnby David R. SlavittnThe Cook, The Thief, His Wifen& Her LovernProduced by Kees KasandernWritten and directed bynPeter GreenawaynReleased by Miramax FilmsnThe Plot Against HarrynProduced by Michael Roemer andnRobert YoungnWritten and directed bynMichael RoemernReleased by King ScreennLust, greed, betrayal, murder, andnrevenge are not at all unusual asnthe subjects of movies, but Peter Greenaway’snextension of these typical concernsnto include cannibalism is a halfjoking,nhalf-serious gesture that remindsnus of the Elizabethan and Jacobeanntragedies of blood or even, before that,nof the goriest excesses of Senecan theatrics.nWho knows? Maybe we are readynfor a revival of Thyestes.nAlbert is the eponymous thief ofnThe Cook, The Thief, His Wife & HernLover. He is absolute appetite, purenimpurity — which is, in itself, a fairlyncomplicated piece of business. Greenaway’sn• script calls for actor MichaelnGambon to behave swinishly and thuggishlynof course, but that wouldn’t benenough for us to despise him as keenlynas we must if we are to be fullynsympathetic to his wife’s manneristnrevenge. He is as gross and crude asnone could imagine, but what gives thenbehavior its singular odiousness is thatnhis atrocious behavior is in the settingnof a grand restaurant, Le Hollandais,nthe elaborate belle epoch decor ofnwhich is not only stunning but symbolicnof that whole range of proprietiesnGambon so blithely and unremittinglynviolates. His loud talk in a Gockneynaccent and his mispronunciations ofnFrench words on the menu are characteristicnbits in a pattern of escalatingndesecrations. He belches. He makesncrude remarks to and about his attractivenand delicate wife, Georginan(Helen Mirren), observing to his bandnof thugs and cronies with him at thentable that “the naughty bits and thendirty bits are so close together,” andnthen looking at her as he demonstrates,nholding his thumb and index finger anninch or so apart. There is no proprietynor decency that he observes or respectsn— he even goes barging into the ladies’nlavatory to look for Georgina when henthinks she is taking too long in there.nShe is, as a matter of fact, taking anlong time because she has contrived anway of getting back at Albert. With anrather delicate and soulful man whomnshe has seen across the restaurant sittingnalone at his table and reading, shenhas engineered a chance meeting andnthen parlayed that into an abrupt affairnthat they consummate in one of thenladies’ room stalls, as if to demonstratenthat, for all of Albert’s grossness, henand Yeats may be right after all aboutnthe proximity of the naughty bits andndirty bits.nThis simple enough set-up is presentednwith a great deal of panache —ndark reds of the dining room give way,nabruptly, to an eerie white of thenlavatories, and Georgina’s dress, anmatching red in one shot, turns whitenand therefore remains matching in thennext. There is no attempt at “realism,”nbut indeed, a fairiy strenuous effort tonescape from its confines. The kitchennof the restaurant is a cavernous place,nintimidatingly Hogarthian in its parodynof overbearing 19th-century industrialnarchitecture. And at one of the sinks ofnthis grotesque and infernal workplace,none of the marmitons sings in annangelic boy-soprano: “Wash me / thoroughlyn/ and cleanse me of my /niniquity . . .” while an invisible chorusnof other voices (other souls? saved orndamned?) provides lush harmony andnnnsupport. Meanwhile, there are corpsesnof dead animals hanging on racks, asnintimidating and distressing as in any ofnthose Dutch genre paintings’ cozy andndomestic versions of the momentonmori.nAlbert, the thief, owns the restaurant,nwhatever that means. At the least,nit is a necessary condition for much ofnthe action because if he weren’t thenowner, the chef (Richard Bohringer)nwould either throw him out or, morenlikely, prevent him from entering innthe first place. But there is also somenlikelihood of a nudge toward allegoryn— appetite, let us suppose, is the proprietornof the graces.nThe guignol zest of the picture isnwhat makes it interesting and saves itnfrom these allegorical tendencies thatnget heavier and murkier as the actionnunfolds. It turns out that Michael’snreading is not simply a bit of businessnbut vital to the structure of the piece.nThe solitary figure with whom Georginanis having it off in pantries andnstorage rooms in the kitchen is thenproprietor of a book depository, whatevernthat’s supposed to be. It isn’t anbook store or any conventional kind ofnlibrary, but only a huge warehouse fullnof books piled up apparently at random,nbut all of them marked withnbookplates. When the wife and hernlover are betrayed — as was inevitable,nafter all — they flee together, stark nakednin a truck full of garbage andnLIBERAL ARTSnTHE LIST SPEAKSnFOR ITSELFnChairman John E. Frohnmayer, defendingnthe National Endowment for thenArts from an attack by Bill Kauffman innthe Wall Street Journal in May: “As fornthose who have received governmentnsupport—authors such as Alice Walker,nJohn Irving, Gloria Naylor and RaymondnCarver—certainly they have returnednour investment in them, both innthe tax revenues generated by theirnworks and, more important, through thenenriching quality of their prose.”nSEPTEMBER 1990/53n