The Belly of an Architect

The Belly of an Architect is a 1987 film drama written and directed by Peter Greenaway, featuring original music by Glenn Branca and Wim Mertens. Starring Brian Dennehy and Chloe Webb, it was nominated for the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) award at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.[1]

The Belly of an Architect
DVD cover
Directed byPeter Greenaway
Produced byColin Callender
Walter Donohue
Written byPeter Greenaway
StarringBrian Dennehy
Chloe Webb
Lambert Wilson
Music byWim Mertens
CinematographySacha Vierny
Edited byJohn Wilson
Distributed byHemdale Film Corporation
Release date
Running time
120 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom / Italy


The American architect Stourley Kracklite has been commissioned to construct an exhibition in Rome dedicated to the architecture of the 18th century French architect, Étienne-Louis Boullée. His Italian colleagues express doubts about whether Boullée is one of the pantheon of famed architects, perhaps because Boullée was an inspiration for Adolf Hitler's architect Albert Speer.

Tirelessly dedicated, Kracklite's marriage and health deteriorates, corresponding to the decline of Boullée, who until the 20th century was little known.

He becomes obsessed with Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire, after hearing that Augusta's wife, Livia, supposedly poisoned him as, suffering from stomach pains, he assumes that his own wife, Louisa, is trying to do the same. She informs him that she is pregnant, and is sexually involved with the younger co-organiser of the exhibition.

He discovers that he has terminal stomach cancer. The film ends at the exhibition's opening ceremony, which Kracklite watches from a high vantage point. As Louisa gives birth to their child, Kracklite jumps to his death.


Director Greenaway's visual technique heightens Kracklite's alienation. There are few close-up shots of the other actors beside Dennehy, who himself is dwarfed by the dominance of the Roman architecture surrounding him.

Greenaway's trademark historical reenactments also compose a major theme: many visual images of the film appear to replicate major 18th-century works of art and architecture. In addition there are subtle references to Isaac Newton and the law of gravity, perhaps alluding to Kracklite's own inability to escape the physical laws of mortality.



Critical reception

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports 91% approval of The Belly of an Architect based on 11 reviews, though with an average rating of 6.5/10.[2]


  1. "Festival de Cannes: The Belly of an Architect". Retrieved 19 July 2009.
  2. "The Belly of an Architect (1987)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
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