Surprisingly, the most controversial film of the year comes from British director Peter Greenaway, who specialises in puzzling the audience (all of them) while entertaining (some of them). The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (R, CBS-Fox) is not as oblique as his past films and it is also more definitely a comedy although some people may not see the funny side of all the full-frontal nudity and the odd spot of cannibalism. The film is dominated by a colossal performance by Michael Gambon as the “thief’ among the title quartet a monumentally crass and vulgar crook called Albert Spica, who has invested in a lavish, experimental restaurant called Le Hollandais, which he visits noisily every night with his cronies and his long-suffering wife, Georgina (Helen Mirren). Sick of her uncouth husband’s physical and verbal abuse, Georgina is attracted to a quiet, bookish man, Michael (Alan Howard), who dines alone. Over successive nights, she engages him in torrid sex out the back of the restaurant, in the toilets, kitchen and pantry. The French cook (Richard Bohringer), who despises the ignorant, gross Spica, encourages the clandestine lovers and keeps watch for them. When Spica discovers the true reason for Georgina’s frequent absences from the table, he vows in his rage to kill Michael and eat him a threat he soon has reason to regret. Writerdirector Greenaway says his film is modelled on satirical Jacobean theatre “a classic Revenge Tragedy out of ‘the theatre of blood’ with a great obsession in human corpo reality eating, drinking, defecating, copulating, belching, vomiting, nakedness and bleeding”. Yes, well, it certainly has a bit more going on than the average episode of A Country Practice. Greenaway and his cast carry it off with a combination of gall, flamboyant theatricality and great elan, although I will leave you to work out why the restaurant customers are dressed in a mix of costumes from the 17th Century to the present why clothes change color when characters move from one scene to the next and why the snowy-beaded kitchen hand is a shrill boy soprano.