FILM | La Grande Bouffe
Four friends – a pilot, a TV executive, a chef and a judge – lock themselves up in a grand villa with the intent of eating themselves to death over the course of a weekend. Three of them decide that a weekend of stuffing their faces might get a little tedious, so they invite three prostitutes and a willing schoolteacher to join their feast.
It’s a peculiar time for this film to be restored and re-released – social media is awash with the feminist cause, bookshops have several bookshelves dedicated to women writing about problems peculiar to women and Mumsnet strikes fear into the otherwise cold and uncaring hearts of politicians. Let’s face it boys, to be a white male in 2015 is, frankly, unfashionable. Yet here’s a film that makes Clarkson’s Top Gear look like a vicar’s tea party with extra doilies. La Grande Bouffe is about male physiology and psychology in all its full glory and horror.
So why now? Je sais pas, deslolée.
The film shocked the critics at Cannes in 1973 and its showing at the Curzon Mayfair forced Mary Whitehouse to invoke the Vagrancy Act (the cinema was accused of “keeping a disorderly house”), resulting in the extension of the Obscene Publications Act to cover film. As part of cinema history, La Grande Bouffe justly deserves its place in the footnotes, especially in the UK. And today? Its juxtaposition of sex, food, shit, death and vomit still delivers a visceral punch and its cinematic ingredients still congeal to produce one of the bitterest tastes of dark humour known to cinema.
The Marquis de Sade’s attempt to write the most explicit and shocking literature ever yielded his incomplete work of 120 Days of Sodom, (which also inspired Pasolini’s very different Salò: a work far more horrific than humorous). Like de Sade, Ferreri places four men with morally despicable aims in self-imposed seclusion, joined by the necessary female bodies to stave off monotony. But unlike the 18th century work, La Grande Bouffe tackles its premise of overindulgence with intelligence, wit and style. Ferreri was concerned with speaking frankly, as he says in one of the interviews making up this DVD’s special features. And speak frankly he certainly did. The penultimate self-destruction has the chef, Ugo, being brought to orgasm by the schoolteacher while a fellow suicide hand-feeds him brioche. The poor man suffers his petit- and his grand-mort simultaneously. Intellectual masturbation at its finest?
Ferreri speaks through his film not so much about food as about friendship between men and their common experience of ageing, fear and greed. While he did not set out to appall, an inevitable by-product the human body’s contemplation is disgust: the way it behaves in real life can be nauseating. Then, as it does now, cinema hid the less appealing realities of life with backlighting, editing and superficial scripts. Ferreri wanted to strip away this nonsense and hit us with some of the human condition’s more sordid aspects.
A stellar cast – as well as Andréa Ferréol’s unfashionably full and beautiful figure – make this film well worth the watch if you can stomach (sorry!) the film’s more grotesque moments and its general premise.
La Grande Bouffe; director Marco Ferreri, 130 minutes (1973), starring Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret.