Reviewed Jun 30, 2012
I'll never forget the first time I saw this. It was 2003 (meaning I was around 15). My (very bizarre, but thoroughly awesome) family and I rented three movies; Lost in Translation, Returner (a fun, if not a bit derivative, Japanese flick), and this. My mother had seen this many a year ago and telling me absolutely nothing she simply snagged the tape and brought it home, telling me it was something I needed to watch.
Based on the box art (which include a tiny bit more than the poster) I expected a proper yet naughty film involving sex, food, and potentially death. What I got was a movie that jolted me so bad I had no choice but to watch Lost in Translation afterwards to try and get the film out of my head (which is the absolutely perfect palate cleanser since there is essentially nothing happening in that film).
This is a perfect film on essentially every level. Of all people, Jean-Paul Gaultier is responsible for the amazing wardrobe of the film. The set design is gorgeous and the cinematography excellent, with the two working together to create the illusion of watching an exceptionally bizarre play. Helen Mirren is at her most breathtaking here, and Michael Gambon is certainly at his least Dumbledore-like, as the titular thief, Albert Spica. He is a horrfic criminal with a decent wealth and a gorgeous wife who hates him to show for his "work," and he opens the film smearing animal feces on a man. This being the very beginning scene of the film, it is also the least of his transgressions, and just that explanation might imply the mark this film left on my younger mind.
The title of the film tells you quite literally what is happening here: the Wife, Georgina, is unhappy with her marriage and begins to sneak off and have relations with Michael, a patron of the restaurant she and her husband often frequent, Le Hollandais. The Chef, Richard, seems to be the only one in the story who sees everything as it happens, only involving himself in the plot when asked, but always doing the right thing.
As things spiral out of control, Albert becomes more violent to everyone in his path, friend or otherwise, and Georgina and Michael attempt to escape with Richard's help. Nothing in this film goes as planned and essentially defied every expectation I had, right down to a conclusion that remains one of the most shocking things I (a man who has seen such films as Cannibal Holocaust and Nekromantik) have ever seen, made even more unforgettable by Michael Nyman's absolutely piercing score, which remains one of the most haunting I have ever heard.
I recommend this film more than almost anything else I love, if only because it seems to be growing more and more lost to time as of late. At the time of this writing however, it is available for Instant Viewing on Netflix in the US, although it truly deserves a Critierion Collection release. Few films straddle so many genres so well, exploitation and serious film, horror, (extremely black) comedy, romance, and drama and manage to make every single one of them work. As long as you have a high tolerance for shock, this is a must-see for anyone, regardless of direct filmic tastes.