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La Grande Bouffe (British Release)
Four affluent gentlemen (Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret, Ugo Tognazzi) decide to rent a large Victorian house and spend a weekend of gastronomic delight. The four men also invite three prostitutes to accompany them as well as a local school teacher (Andrea Ferreol) fascinated by their manners. As the weekend begins it becomes obvious that Marcello, Michel, Philippe, and Ugo have decided to eat themselves to death.
A film as shocking and disturbing as Pier Paolo Pasonili's Salo (1975) Marco Ferreri's La Grande Bouffe (1973) certainly is one of the great controversies in the annals of European cinema. Intended as a satire of a political and social system many believe will eventually destroy itself driven by greed and consumerist mentality this is indeed a cinematic work that defies every known categorization. Excess, perversion, nihilism, humor, you name it Marco Ferreri's film has it.
The story of La Grande Bouffe will certainly raise plenty of eye-brows amongst those accustomed to seeing their films with a certain degree of decency. While not as graphic as Salo Marco Ferreri's La Grande Bouffe is equally disturbing and in my opinion a tiny bit more provocative. But why?
I have read plenty of reviews during the years, some of them from notable scholars, claiming that La Grande Bouffe basically predicts the demise of Western ordinance as we know it. The long tirades which Marcello, Michel, Philippe, and Ugo fire up throughout the film certainly welcome such a description as it is quite easy to sense the subtle criticism planted in them. Was this however Marco Ferreri's intention? I am unsure.
I have also seen numerous claims where La Grande Bouffe was addressed as nothing more than an attempt to scandalize an elitist society fallen in a deep cultural coma (a prostitute and a school teacher are sharing the same "fascination" yet only one of them is paid for it). There are very specific social acts here that are being attacked: marriage, proper etiquette, etc. As a result I like to think that La Grande Bouffe is a little bit of both, a satire and a comedy where the director's critique is just as personal as it is universal.
The true strength of this film however stems from its ability to go that extra step very few other films that I can recall have managed while at the same time it employs a language that can only be described as elitist. I find it hilarious, and at the same time bizarre!! Once it become obvious what the men's agenda is La Grande Bouffe evolves into a surrealistic farce where the more one attempts to apply logic to it the more one will find it impossible to rationalize what takes place on the screen.
The film won the FIPRESCI Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's La Grande Bouffe looks good but not perfect. First of all what needs to be said here is that the source for this DVD is most likely the restored French theatrical print that was shown back in 2003 for the film's 30th anniversary. Or, some partial elements must have been used from it as I did actually see some large burn-marks popping here and there. Furthermore, the film also has an overall soft to "regular" look which reveals some minimal wear during specific scenes. Yet, I must admit that the UK disc looks acceptable. Colors are mostly well-reproduced, contrast is slightly above-average, and detail for the most part decent. Blown through a digital projector some of the night scenes are a tad too soft for my taste but certainly the rest of the print holds well. Finally the biggest issue I have with this transfer is the presence of macro-blocking which is likely to irritate some of you with more sensitive home set-ups. Still, I consider this to be a decent presentation. PAL-encoded, Region 2.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a French 2.0 Dolby track and optional English subtitles the audio is very good. Dialog is clear and easy to follow (this is mostly a dialog-driven feature) and I could not notice any problematic hissing or drop-outs.
In addition to a gallery of stills from the film what you will find here is a short documentary film titled Frank Bordoni's Blow-Out in which the master chef presents a masterclass on how to make crepes suzettes with Grand Marnier and orange sauce. Indeed, this feature comes highly recommended as some of the extravagant food in this film is indeed quite pleasing to look at. Not sure how one would feel about it after viewing the main feature though.
La Grande Bouffe in my opinion is best seen without reading any reviews, this one included, or comments. Just pop in the disc, sit back, and see what reactions this film creates in you. There is plenty here that might test your tolerance for, well, just about anything you can think of. The film is like a fireball that destroys everything on its way until it finally collapses under its own weight.
The UK release by Noveaux Pictures is most certainly of decent quality though my suspicion is that this French print will be revisited in a near future. For now however I have absolutely no reservations in recommending it to you. It is the only decent way to see La Grande Bouffe.
This review was made possible with the kind assistance of Xploited Cinema.