Writer-director Peter Greenaway (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover) puts "the 'art' back into the art film" (The Hollywood Reporter) with this work of "pure visual poetry" (Boston Herald) that "celebrates Rome and ... more »its architecture with elegance and discernment" (The New York Times) and boasts Brian Dennehy's "best performance of his screen career" (LA Weekly)! American architect Stourley Kracklite (Dennehy) can't see the beauty in Rome throughhis pain. Intense stomachaches are crippling him and, worse, he believes his pregnant young wife ishaving an affair with his archrival! As his suspicions turn to paranoia and obsession, and his marriage, health and reputation begin to unravel, this once-respected man becomes consumed by his own self-torture from the inside out!« less
"This was made a few years before "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover," which remains Peter Greenaway's best-known film. Not as many people know about this one. Brian Dennehy, that hardworking character actor and veteran of many thrillers, finally got a shot at art-house cred in this stubbornly interiorized drama. Dennehy is Stourley Kracklite, an American architect in Rome supervising the exhibition of the classical architect he idolizes. When he learns that his idol had stomach ailments much like his own, he becomes convinced that his straying, younger wife (Chloe Webb) is poisoning him. Stomachs become a fixation for him (and for us; after a while, our eyes automatically travel to characters' tummies), and he gets sicker and more paranoid as his wife, unborn child and career slip away from him. Even in the shallowest roles, Dennehy has been a burly force of nature; here, in a showboat artist role Hemingway could've written, Dennehy, with his white beard and Homeric shoulders, is about the only actor who could be posed between classical Roman statues (as cinematographer Sacha Vierny often frames him) without looking like a nerd. You knew he was physically powerful, but in this movie Dennehy achieves Brando-esque emotional power. The film itself is another Peter Greenaway number, full of art-major allusions, but that great bull Dennehy takes the snob curse off it. Greenaway wisely puts him in almost every frame - the better, perhaps, to appreciate him as art."
Randy A. Riddle | Mebane, North Carolina USA | 04/17/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In his most accessible and mainstream film, Peter Greenaway looks at an architect in the days leading up to the grand opening of an elaborate building he has designed. The film looks at all of the nagging doubts that an artist has about life, a legacy, and death. Not for all tastes, but well worth your time. Fans of Greenaway will notice all the usual touches (working art history into the story, for example). One viewer here noted they couldn't get past the first 15 minutes and couldn't understand why the main character was behaving in such a way to his wife -- as in many European films, the characters are a bit more complex and Greenaway takes his time unfolding the character sketches, so the reasons for Denehey's behavior is explained. In all, a very rewarding film for those inclined towards this type of thing."
A study of the tortures of unappreciated architects
Wayne | England | 05/02/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The ebullient Brian Dennehy gives a fine performance as Stourley Kracklite, an American architect who is in Rome with his younger wife Louisa (Chloe Webb) to arrange an exhibition on the French architect Etienne-Louis Boullée. Kracklite is obsessed with Boullée and even writes letters to him. Kracklite's life soon begins to deteriorate. He starts to suffer excruciating stomach pains and vomits each time he eats. He even thinks that his wife is poisoning him. His wife then falls pregnant and has an affair with Kracklite's rival architect, Caspasian Speckler (Lambert Wilson). Kracklite then sleeps with Speckler's sister, to get some sort of satisfaction. Speckler intrudes while they are having sex, and announces, "having sex with your pregnant wife is perfect, because I don't need to use contraception". Kracklite then punches him on the nose. Speckler's sister then says, "Don't put your blood on my white towel."The film follows the parallels of these two unappreciated architects from different eras. The film is memorable for Dennehy's (an actor who is also unappreciated) remarkable performance. Also, the beautiful cinematography by Greenaway's trusty DOP Sacha Vierny makes the film very easy to look at. From the ancient architecture of Rome, to a painting-like bowl of figs, it is pristine-looking. Michael Nyman is absent, but the music by Wim Mertens is splendid. This film was made in between A Zed & Two Noughts and Drowning by Numbers, and it is quite unlike those two films, which, I think, are superior to this in the way they offer us a much more enigmatic, abstract concept. But even a ever so slightly lesser Greenaway film is a thing to behold."
Six Pack Sonata
Glenn A. Buttkus | Sumner, WA USA | 09/10/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Peter Greenaway, presently a professor of Cinema Studies at EGS, has said," I really don't think that we have seen any cinema yet. I think that we have seen a 100 years of illustrated text." As a former film editor, he cuts in the camera. He loves long tracking shots, and he usually does them in one take. He will open his scenes in tableau, usually in a long shot, and then he allows it to stir to life. Each frame is a masterwork of color, light, and shadow, and a sumptuous feast of dazzling props.
His cinematographer, the great Sacha Vierny, helps Greenaway's cinematic look and style immensily. He has shot eleven of Greenaway's projects. Vierny composes each frame as if it were to be a Pulitzer prize-winning photograph. Two composers, Glenn Branca and Wim Mertens completed the score. This was the first film score for both men. It soared from Neo-classical to jazz; kind of like Nino Rota-lite.
After seeing a Greenaway film, I always feel rushed, like I have just run a foot race through the Louvre, as if ten times too much visual information has rippled over my retina, and that my visual cortex has only perceived a tiny portion of it; that repeated viewings are in order. I usually feel ignorant of the many classical, historical, and philosophic references. I feel that I need to read more, study more, think more, and that I wish I were smarter than I am. I feel extremely challenged and vastly over-stimulated.
Enter Brian Dennehy as the American architect Stourley Kracklite. He is an accomplished actor, and in this film he was able to grandstand, to perform a one-man show. His bulk and his energy were barely contained in the frame. He seemed to shake those pillars on all those great buildings as if they were bed railings. The movie opens in the heat of a sexual encounter as Kracklite copulates his way into Italy. A minor architect, hailing from Chicago, city of red meat and money. Wide of shoulder, amble of belly, bearded and bellicose, Kracklite swaggered about barking orders. He had come to Rome to set up and oversee an exhibition honoring his artistic hero, the 18th century architect, Etienne Louis Boullee'.
Chloe Webb played his young wife, Louisa. He was 54, and she was 24. They had been married for 7 years. She was not very good in this film. She badly needed direction, but Greenaway was not available for such trivial pursuits. Lambert Wilson, known these days as the French rogue Merovingnian in the MATRIX trilogy, played the handsome wealthy Roman architect, Caspasian Speckler. He was rich, arrogant, randy, and deeply dishonest. He would steal Kracklite's life and his wife. He would wrench the exhibition our of the American's hands, and he would witness the man's rapid deterioration with delight.
Kracklite was striken with stomach cramps immediately upon his arrival. This turned out to be the demon cancer, blossoming in his colon. He snarled, raged, and thrashed about, but to no avail. Cancer would be the victor. Or would it? He had some other ideas on that subject.
Greenaway set up the structure of the film to fit within the cycle of gestion, from conception on the rails to birth during the opening ceremony of the Boullee exhibition. Then he added death to the mix; death coiciding with birth, one making room for the other. This film was not a masterpiece, but it was masterfully constructed. Nor was it a vacuous exercise in esthetics as some critics have labeled it. It is a very good film, filled with plenty of grist and gusto."
The Belly of An Architect: Art versus Life in Rome
Aleta M. Daley | Norwich, CT | 04/18/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For those viewers who have found Greenaway's films excessive at times, and the metaphors attenuated to the point of losing their dramatic power, you will find "The Belly of An Architect" a superb, cinematic work of art. Like the "Draughtsman's Contract" but far more complex, the conflicts which are at first masked by social and artistic conventions unfold gradually between the layers of visual imagery, dialogue and music. Stourley Kracklite, played so perfectly by Brian Dennehy, is a man with a prodigious ego, lust for life and may seem initially to be less than a sympathetic protagonist. But surrounded by intrigue, opportunism and philistinism, he emerges as a hero. He is an architect, an artist with a vision and a mission.From the beginning, his passion for his intellectual mentor,a fictional 18th century French architect, Etienne-Louis Boullee, and the scientist Sir Isaac Newton, provokes thinly veiled ridicule and skepticism from his Italian colleagues. Even
faced with a young and ruthless nemesis, Kracklite remains indomitable. His belly, the center of gravity, becomes a metaphor for his frailty, his humility and his humanity. What makes this film a work of art, in my opinion,is that you have all the components: A setting that complements the drama, Rome and its magnificent monuments as the backdrop, a strong dramatic situation with several critical issues at stake, including good and evil, characters who elude easy definition at first glance and vary distinctively, and themes that develop and resonate long after you have finished watching. As for the music,
I only wish that Greenaway had recorded a soundtrack. Or if there is one, I haven't found it. "The Belly of An Architect" is the kind of film about art and life, the individual and society, vision and convention, love and betrayal that works so beautifully because its creator has remained focused, in my opinion, on telling a story, infusing it with a sense of both urgency and mystery, and so conveying an unmistakable emotional power as well."