Brian Dennehy (of F/X fame) plays an American architect named Stourley Kracklite. Stourley arrives in Rome, Italy for his latest job in which he will be supervising a new project focusing on the late Etienne-Louis Boullee, a famous French architect. He's not travelling alone though, his wife Louisa (Chloe Webb of Sid And Nancy) is along for the journey with him. Boullee has some renown in architectural circles for his specialty, which are oval structures and it would seem like things are going very well for the couple what with Stourley now working on his dream project and all.
Soon after arriving in Rome though, Stourley begins to suffer from some very severe stomach pains. His stomach becomes so sore that he is unable to enjoy the city or its history at all and he becomes quite miserable. The more miserable he becomes the more suspicious he gets and it isn't long before he begins to figure that his young wife, now pregnant with his child, is having an affair. He also thinks that the reason he's having these stomach pains is because she is poisoning him.
As Stourley's obsessions grow out of hand he begins to wander the historic buildings of Rome compulsively, maniacally photocopy architectural plans, and presume that his wife is cheating on him with the museum patron, Caspasian Speckler (Lambert Wilson of the two Matrix sequels). Caspasian, along with his sister, Flavia (Stefania Casini of Antonio Bido's The Bloodstained Shadow), begins to plot Stourley's end and he spirals deeper into his own obsession and depression.
The Welsh born Greenaway has long been making deeply personal and often alienating films set in England but this time out opts to set his film in Rome, where his keen visual eye captures the beauty and splendor of the city in style. His background as a painter is obvious in the setup and angles used in this film (as it is in many of his other works as well) and The Belly Of An Architect is simply gorgeous to look at, even if it is sometimes difficult to relate to the characters, at least from a social standpoint..
Brian Dennehy, here cast very much against type, excels in the lead and delivers a powerful performance that is both believable and moving in its convincing portrayal of a possibly deranged man about to lose it all. Those who are only familiar with his work in tough guy roles like F/X and First Blood should be suitably impressed with his turn here. Chloe Webb's character is interesting as well, and is both easy to sympathize with and also easy to despise given the turn of events she sets into motion in the later part of the movie.
So while it's not a high octane blockbuster, Belly Of An Architect is an extremely well made and well acted film with a compelling story that will reward those patient enough to let themselves be taken in by it all. It isn't the easiest film to get into - there are no explosions, gag jokes, or car chases – but this heady and serious drama is deserving of your time.
The Belly Of An Architect is given a solid, if unremarkable, 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this release. The colors could have been a little more robust but the reds come through nicely. Blacks remain fairly stable though in a few of the darker scenes some grain is more evident than usual. Print damage is minimal (though present) and skin tones look nice and natural. There is some mild shimmering in some of the brighter scenes though and the film looks just a tad softer than it probably should.
Only one audio option on this disc, an acceptable Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track with removable subtitles available in English, French and Spanish. While the dialogue is consistently clean and clear and easy to understand, the track lacks depth and comes across rather flat sounding. A optional 5.1 mix would have been a nice inclusion, if only to open up the soundscape a little more and provide some ambience to a few scenes that would have benefited from it.
Regretfully, the only extra on MGM's DVD release, aside from the requisite chapter selection, is the film's original theatrical trailer. Why it is that Greenaway's films are usually released barebones is beyond me, but this release continues that sad trend.
The Belly Of An Architect is a beautifully made film with lush visuals and an interesting, character based story. MGM's DVD is passable despite the lack of any serious extra features, and this release comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.