Université de la Réunion, Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines, Département d’Anglais
Inside Peter Greenaway’s Kitchen :
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
Mémoire présenté en vue de l’obtention de la Maîtrise d’Anglais (juin 2003) – Mention Très Bien
Par Manuela GHERGHEL
Sous la Direction de Monsieur le Professeur Jacques TUAL
For all cinema lovers and most cinema buffs, a good film consists, first of all, of a good story, one of those that takes time to tell and is full of twists and turns. As David Lynch admits, many of us like to plunge into the darkness of a cinema theatre, our eyes fixed straight ahead for two hours, watching contentedly (passively, at least) the imitation of life or the story that the film offers. It is, after all, a sort of voyeurism: watching without being seen the life and intimacies of others. It can also be an escape from everyday life, a voyage, an adventure lived by proxy, at little expense and without danger.
Yet, there are some people who, even though they love the cinema, perceive and imagine it in a totally different light, far from the stories ‘traditional’ cinema has been showing for more than one hundred years. The interest shown for cinema by these people is not in the well-put-together scripts, that are, sometimes, the collective work of authors specialised in this type of writing. Hollywood’s style, myths, cults and dreams, and especially its present worldwide film hegemony, don’t reach out to or attract everyone; quite the contrary.
In the forefront of these people is Peter Greenaway, the English film director who is the subject of this paper. To say about Greenaway that he is an ‘independent’ director wouldn’t be wrong, but the term would prove insufficient to qualify him.
On the contemporary British and European cinema scene, Peter Greenaway occupies a choice position, because it is a special one. As we will see in the first chapter of this paper, he is an artist who has not chosen to be a film director, he has become one along the way, somehow forced by circumstances and by the difficulties that he encountered in his attempts to establish himself as a painter, his true passion, or in his efforts to become a writer.
That is why his artistic interests have been, during his entire career – which, besides, is far from over – so varied and numerous: he is as much a painter, a novelist, an artist, a book illustrator, and an exhibition commissioner, as he is an opera creator and a director…
But his unique personality is also due to his peculiar qualities which have created his personal style, his unique stamp: an exceptional eccentricity and a freedom of expression, accompanied by an elitist aestheticism, refined and provocative, and both technical and conceptual research, always pushed forward towards absolute perfection in the execution.
Greenaway is different and proud of being it considering himself to be waging war against the type of illustrated text so successfully promoted by traditional cinema. His goal is to obtain a multidimensional cinematographic expression deprived of any slavishness to some pre-written narrative or script.
With some very small exceptions, (The Cook…, the film studied in this paper, can be seen, in part, as one) Greenaway is far removed from the approaches and the social interests of other contemporary English film directors, such as Stephen Frears, Mike Leigh or Ken Loach.
Greenaway devotes all his attention and his inventive ability to the creation of a global artwork, a closed universe, self-sufficient, eclectic, tending to the baroque, sophisticated, obsessive, physical, governed and structured by different systems of classification and crammed with erudite references.
From Greenaway’s rich work, we have selected only one film as a subject, a quite uncommon approach in the case of this director, because his creations lend themselves perfectly to an overall view and a