The Film (5/5)
Four successful friends gather at a mansion with the intent of eating themselves to death. Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni - 8 1/2) is a womanizing airplane pilot. Philipe (Philippe Noiret - Topaz) is a judge who lives with his childhood nanny with whom he has an unhealthy sexual dependance. Michel (Michel Piccoli - Belle de Jour) is the host of a television show who has recorded episodes to be played beyond his death, unbeknownst to his adult daughter. Ugo (Ugo Tognazzi - Barbarella) is the chef and owner of a restaurant named The Biscuit Soup who decides his dishes no longer please him as much as they please his customers.
The four barricade themselves in after ordering a huge quantity of food and begin to eat. Marcello decides that he can't make it without female companionship so they hire three prostitutes to join them as well as a local school teacher named Andrea, (Andrea Ferreol - The Last Metro) and the debauchery begins in earnest. Michel clearly loves Marcello, Andrea and Phillippe declare their intent to wed and Marcello tries to bed a prostitute but it turns out he's impotent. All the while they eat and eat and eat.
There are parts in La Grande Bouffe where even the seasoned film watcher will blanch at the scatological humor. At first you like the characters, then you don't, then comes bewilderment at their actions leading ultimately to pity. The giant mansion and it's grounds become a prison of their own making. Soon the prostitutes leave when they realize what our gang is up to, while Andrea stays and insinuates herself into the proceedings. Events disintegrate from there.
Legend has it that Marcello Mastroianni's lover Catherine Denevue didn't speak to him for a week after she saw the film. Ingrid Bergman reportedly threw up after seeing it at Cannes. These aren't exactly unwarranted reactions. The film, while certainly no Salo, is disturbing on a few different levels. At first I thought, well we're just supposed to hate these upper class citizens who despite having it all want to indulge their pain away. But I think it's a bit more complicated than that. These people are broken and cause us as viewers to examine how we too may be broken.
Arrow presents La Grande Bouffe with a new 2K transfer from the original negative, in high definition 1080p (bluray) and standard definition (dvd). The picture has a pretty heavy grain detail, preserving the theatrical experience. The picture looks great and only a few times did I notice some scratches on the sides of the picture. Honestly, I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't been looking right at it. The picture was very, very pleasing to my eyes.
Audio is presented in a French audio mono track (uncompressed PCM on bluray) and was cleaned up from the original magnetic reels. It sounded excellent, dialogue and soundtrack came through very well. English subtitles, newly translated, are included.
Arrow packs the disc with a several extras. Included: The Farcical Movie: Marco Fereri, a television episode where the director contextualizes his work. Behind the scenes footage including interviews with Mastroianni, Piccoli, Tognazzi, Noiret and Ferreri. Colours Around A Festival: an interview with Ferreri, Piccoli, Noiret, Tognazzi and composer Philippe Sarde. Forming Ferreri: a video essay by Italian film scholar Pasquale Iannone focusing on Ferreri's career before La Grande Bouffe. Select scene audio commentary by Pasquale Iannone. An extract from the 1973 Cannes press conference. And finally, a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Johnny Mains and contemporary reviews.
Arrow has done an above and beyond job presenting La Grande Bouffe on bluray. It's a Criterion level package and more of the excellent work that we have been receiving from Arrow. It is at times a difficult watch. But I believe it's an ultimately rewarding experience. It's not a horror film in the way we classify such. The house is pre haunted by ghosts that don't start to rattle their chains until after the credits roll. I was oddly affected by the film, a review assignment by the way, I wasn't particularly looking forward to. I was wrong.