The Belly of an Architect

(UK/Italy - 1987)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Brian Dennehy, Chloe Webb, Lambert Wilson, Sergio Fantoni, Vanni Corbellini, Alfredo Varelli, Geoffret Coppleston
Genre: Drama
Director: Peter Greenaway
Screenplay: Peter Greenaway
Cinematography: Sacha Vierny
Composer: Glenn Brancha, Wim Mertens
Runtime: 108 minutes

The story the film tells is about an American architect Stourley Kracklite (Brian Dennehy) who goes to Rome for 9 months with his wife Louisa (Chloe Webb) to mount an expedition for his favorite architect Etienne Louis Boulee. The couple has no child because Webb has had several miscarriages, but she is impregnated on the train to Rome, and the birth cycle is paralleled to his father's death cycle that can be seen as being caused by his artistic creation going to hell.

The most interesting thing about the movie is not the finish, but what leads us there. Is Dennehy's decline caused by his ridiculous growing obsession with Boulee, whose stomach problems and inability to finish a project he seems to adopt, and subject Augustus, who was poisoned by his wife and thus Dennehy thinks Webb must be poisoning him. Is Dennehy's decline caused by the suave young architect Caspasian (Lambert Wilson), who initially handles the finances of the project but as time goes on takes over both Dennehy's work and wife. The hollow Caspasian can be seen as a representative of evil, particularly capitalism. He reworks the whole exhibition into a show that is designed to make money at the cost of its accuracy and integrity. While it's true that he does pay more attention to Webb, he wins everything based on his ability to manipulate everyone around him.

Peter Greenaway is first and foremost an artist. Obviously, his subject matter allows him to show off the triumphant structures that have been created in Rome, but we see it in the way he elevates and intensifies little things like handwriting and Xerox copies as well. I believe his main message is that the beauty has been corrupted by the money hungry. Dennehy can be seen as Greenaway, fighting to raise the level of art and maintain it's integrity, but since he doesn't control the money his work is not widely seen. Caspasian can be seen as the art industry of the film industry, both catering to the mindless spenders they've created.

Brian Dennehy gives an excellent performance, dominating the screen with sheer power and emotion. The scene where's he's drunk at the restaurant and tries to explain his problems to two women he doesn't know that just want to eat in peace is classic.

The film is not as daring or quite as good from a technical perspective as some of Greenaway's others though Sacha Vierny was one of the greatest cinematographers. Still, a Greenaway film is always a site to behold and certainly never afraid to use atypical material to challenge its audience with complex themes.  




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