29 April 2015 | Red-Barracuda
A more straightforward Greenaway film but less interesting than most of his others
You always know going into a Peter Greenaway film that, for better or for worse, you are going to get something a bit left-field. The Belly of an Architect is really no different in this regard. This one tells the tale of an American architect who travels to Rome with his young wife to supervise an exhibition celebrating the 18th century architect Etienne-Louis Boullée. Very soon after arrival both he and his wife experience contrasting activity in their bellies, for him it is severe abdominal pains while she falls pregnant. To complicate matters, they soon begin affairs with other people. The film essentially then details the architects mental deterioration, which includes writing postcards to his long deceased doppelganger Boullée.
This one has to go down as one of Greenaway's more accessible films. It has an actual story that is underpinned by a good central performance from Brian Dennehy. But its maybe the very fact that it skirts so close to realistic drama that is one of the main problems, as Greenaway is usually best when he does precisely the opposite. The story is really quite boring and the acting aside from Dennehy not all that good – Chloe Webb being particularly flat as his wife; look out also for Stefania (Suspiria) Cassini sporting an unfamiliar cropped 80's barnet. The visuals, while certainly nicely composed, aren't all that memorable. Given that the setting is Rome, there are many shots of that cities peerless architecture, although that all gets almost a bit travelogue to a certain extent. I think this film, therefore, is one for Greenaway devotees almost exclusively as in order to get a lot out of it you have to be interested in his ideas. While I have liked several of his films, I can't deny that, even in the cases of the ones I liked most, his films can be somewhat annoying. Dennehy really helps draw us in to events though and makes a good stab at involving us but it's difficult to care too much about these stiff characters populating a narrative that is both distant and very cold emotionally. Boullée himself is a typically absurd Greenaway figure, in that very little of his architecture ever came to be built, so it's difficult to ever imagine a high profile retrospective of his work ever happening. His rounded, domed buildings mimic the belly of the title, as does his name. So there are many links and symmetries in the story if you are at all interested in that kind of thing. But, while some of the photography was nice and it did have a good score from one of the members of Kraftwerk, it was overall a little tedious for me.