Review: La Grande Bouffe

Arrow Films has released the controversial 1973 French film, La Grande Bouffe, in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.

La Grande Bouffe focuses on four well to do men who have serious problems at home, most of them involving sex. Ugo is a professional chef who seems discontent with his wife. Marcello is suffering from erectile dysfunction. Philippe is a judge who can’t get away from his overprotective nanny, whose sexual advances have become a burden on him. Michel is a producer who is divorced, and may also be a closeted homosexual.

Together, the four men decide to retreat to an abandoned mansion to commit suicide by eating themselves to death. Upon their arrival, they clean up the kitchen and begin to prepare for the feast. Food trucks arrive shortly thereafter, bringing only the best meats and cheeses. It doesn’t take long before the men sit down to enjoy their first meal, accompanied by a projected slideshow of homemade pornographic still shots. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the picture, in which food and sex go hand in hand.

When Marcello insists that he needs to get laid – and the others begin to crave a little female companionship, as well – prostitutes are invited on the premises. Later that night, Andrea arrives. She is a young schoolteacher, who will ultimately chaperone these four men to their deaths.

When the sanitary pipes become so full of shit that they explode and flood the premises, the prostitutes check out, leaving only Andrea. At this point, it is a journey towards the inevitable.

La Grande Bouffe, much like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, is a commentary on excess, particularly excess that comes by way of wealth. We sit and watch these swine literally stuff themselves to death, while the film quite literally reminds us from time to time that they are full of shit. For some, director Marco Ferreri’s film will seem a little too “on the nose”, unlike the aforementioned Bunuel film. However, La Grande Bouffe is unexpectedly powerful – even moving, at times. Yes, it is hilarious. It is most definitely shocking – the MPAA did slap it with the dreaded NC-17. But there is a sadness here that can’t be denied. These men are pathetic, each and every one of them. The actors portraying them have made the wise decision to bring a humanity to their roles, rather than just presenting caricatures, which would have been easier to do. The great thing about La Grande Bouffe is the fact that so many well-known actors are present, and they each go by their real names. Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Piccoli, and Philippe Noiret all bring the right balance of humor and tenderness to the characters that they portray here. Amid all of the farting, shitting, eating, and screwing, there is also tenderness. But don’t let that last part fool you – this is still a wild ride, and should only be approached by those who will be able to stomach it. It is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended. There are people who should never see this film, and then there are others who will want to purchase it immediately. I fall into that latter category.

Arrow Films has provided several special features on this Blu-ray release, including a clip of the Cannes press conference, where the director gets into an argument with a reporter over the meaning of the film. There are also interviews with the actors, who claim to have been quite invested in the making of this film, even to the point of improvising much of the dialogue and situations. There is much, much more. Serious fans of cinema should add La Grande Bouffe to their library. It’s a film that you’ll want to revisit time and time again. One of the great gems of the seventies.

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