Long before Lars Von Trier and Michael Haneke began pok­ing and prod­ding the sen­si­bil­i­ties of the art­house set, there was Marco Ferreri. He took the kind of satir­i­cal notions pio­neered by Bunuel and Pasolini and took them barbed, con­fronta­tion­al heights. La Grande Bouffe is a mem­o­rable exam­ple of his style, tak­ing a satir­i­cal tale about upper class self-indul­gence and push­ing it to grim extremes that a lot of view­ers and crit­ics were not ready for.

LaGB-bluLa Grande Bouffe fea­tures four top ‘70s-era European actors play­ing a quar­tet of bour­geois friends that hap­pen to share the actor’s real first names: Marcello Mastroianni is a wom­an­iz­ing air­line pilot, Michel Piccoli is a tele­vi­sion pro­duc­er, Ugo Tognazzi is a suc­cess­ful chef and Philippe Noiret is a pam­pered judge. They retreat to a vil­la that they stock with all the finest foods as it is revealed they have made a pact to eat elab­o­rate meals until they die from culi­nary excess. A few pros­ti­tutes are enlist­ed to join their death trip, as well as a moth­er­ly teacher (Andrea Ferreol) drawn to their antics, but they all come to real­ize the mor­bid and painful nature of the men’s cho­sen path. However, the four friends are deter­mined to pur­sue their quest to the bit­ter end.

The above premise sounds like it could be the source mate­ri­al for a zany, per­verse com­e­dy and La Grande Bouffe makes peri­od­ic ges­tures in this direc­tion, like Piccoli being seized with sev­ere flat­u­lence or an overused toi­let explod­ing, but Ferreri’s approach to the mate­ri­al is gen­er­al­ly more sub­tle. He treats the nar­ra­tive as an obser­va­tion­al piece, giv­ing the actors room to impro­vise and let­ting the audi­ence feel like spec­ta­tors rather than try­ing to struc­ture the nar­ra­tive and exploit its comedic poten­tial with a lot of overt gags.

LaGB-01Ferreri’s rea­son for this choice of action dawns on the view­er slow­ly as the film pro­gress­es: at first, the actions of the men are qui­et­ly fun­ny, then they become grotesque and final­ly, they become a tragedy that is all the more painful to watch because there is no rea­son for it to hap­pen. This aspect of the film angered a lot of view­ers but Ferreri wants the view­er to feel help­less and angry at being forced to look on as they casu­al­ly, unflinch­ing­ly pur­sue their own demis­es while sur­round­ed by com­fort and beau­ty.

The per­verse nature of the cen­tral quartet’s actions is accen­tu­at­ed by the beau­ty of the film­mak­ing. Ferreri’s direc­tion is state­ly, a choice that is sup­port­ed by lush, care­ful­ly lit cam­er­a­work from Marco Vulpiani and a spar­ing­ly deployed score by Philippe Sarde that is built around a sad, jazz-style the­me. All four leads give mem­o­rable per­for­mances: Mastroianni fear­less skew­ers his sex sym­bol image, Noiret is amus­ing as the most child­like of the four, Piccoli han­dles a showy role well as the pris­sy one who becomes unnerved by the grue­some extremes of their LaGB-02pact and Tognazzi sym­bol­izes the group’s obses­sive­ness as a per­fec­tion­ist chef (he also does a great Brando impres­sion). That said, the scene steal­er is Ferreol as the moth­er fig­ure who becomes their com­pan­ion: even when things get grim, she pro­vides an unex­pect­ed­ly warm and lumi­nous pres­ence.

In short, La Grande Bouffe is the kind of art­house chal­lenge that will test your met­tle but it’s more effec­tive than usu­al for this kind of the film because it creeps up on you in a grad­u­al way. The results are worth explor­ing for the adven­tur­ous because there is gen­uine artistry in the provo­ca­tion on dis­play here.

LaGB-03Blu-Ray Notes: This title was recent­ly released by Arrow Video in the U.S. and the U.K. as a spe­cial edi­tion blu-ray/DVD com­bo set. The trans­fer is a new­ly-cre­at­ed remas­ter that looks gor­geous, offer­ing a rich array of col­ors and a crisp sense of detail that suit the film’s sleek art­house look. The mono French sound­track is pre­sent­ed in LPCM form with English sub­ti­tles and it’s a clear, easy-to-fol­low track.

Arrow has also includ­ed a vari­ety of extras. “The Farcical Movie” is a 1975 inter­view with Ferreri from French TV that includes clips of his work and mus­ings on his influ­ences, which include every­thing from Bunuel to Tex Avery. On a sim­i­lar note, an excerpt from anoth­er French TV show offers 11 min­utes’ worth of on-set footage from La Grande Bouffe that shows how play­ful the actors were.

LaGB-posThe final t.v. inclu­sion is a brief report from the Cannes Film Festival that has the actors offer­ing impas­sioned defens­es for the film, which had just had a tumul­tuous screen­ing. Elsewhere, Ferreri fans will be amused by a snip­pet of footage from a Cannes press con­fer­ence where he dress­es down a pre­ten­tious reporter.

Critic Pasquale Iannone also con­tributes a pair of extras. The first is a select­ed sce­nes com­men­tary that cov­ers 22 min­utes’ worth of moments in the film. He offers detailed bios for Ferreri and his cast, infor­ma­tion on the film’s influ­ences and some details on its con­tro­ver­sial recep­tion. His oth­er inclu­sion is a video essay that cov­ers Ferreri’s ear­ly work up La Grande Bouffe, includ­ing clips for most titles as he describes Ferreri’s slow move into direct­ing and his trou­bles with cen­sors as he devel­oped his voice. A book­let with lin­er notes from Johnny Mains clos­es the pack­age out.

(Full Disclosure: this review was done using a check-disc blu-ray pro­vid­ed by Arrow Video U.S.A. The disc used for the review reflects what buy­ers will see in the fin­ished blu-ray and the lin­er notes were pro­vid­ed to Schlockmania in PDF form.)