World Cinema Wednesday: La Grande Bouffe (1973)

A film about satisfying different kinds of appetites, La Grande Bouffe is an odd, though never dull, comedy drama from director Marco Ferreri. Although never half as graphic as it could be, the mix of nudity, carnal pleasures, and fun with foodstuffs may be enough to put off viewers with more delicate sensibilities.

Four friends come together for a weekend in which they intend to kill themselves by overeating. As well as an abundance of food, the group also decide that they need women, which leads to them arranging a visit from three prostitutes (and one other female guest, Andrea, a teacher who has caught the eye of one of the men). As the behaviour of the four men starts to escalate, fun hijinks starts to take a turn for the serious. And life-threatening.

Developed into a film by Ferreri and Rafael Azcona, with the dialogue from Francis Blanche, this is a film that maintains a light and amused tone throughout while taking an interesting look at some aspects of human nature. It’s no surprise, for example, that all four of the protagonists are men. Women probably wouldn’t come up with such a silly idea in the first place, and you can’t help feeling that they certainly wouldn’t end up racing one another to “the finish line” as the shadow of death started to fall over them. Mind you, those preconceptions are turned upside down by the constant presence of Andrea (Andréa Ferréol), a woman who shows herself to have just as much of an appetite as the men, in some ways, once allowed to let herself be free of societal norms.

Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret, and Ugo Tognazzi all do well in their roles, giving performances that show a slight desperation underlining all of the proceedings. After a lighter opening act, it’s not long until the fun feels tinged with a lot more than simple playfulness. Machismo and competitiveness starts to make our four males push things further and further, quickly beyond the point when even the prostitutes no longer want to be a part of it. Whether stressing out and being aggressive due to impotence, mistaking trapped wind for a bigger problem, or rationalising the sexual freedom going on around them, these men are obviously in need of something more helpful than their own final solution. But that would require much more effort, and much more courage.

Although it has more depth to it than at first may seem apparent, I admit that I was left wishing the film had done a bit more. It could have turned even darker, it could have been even more interesting and insightful. But that didn’t stop me from giving more thought to what I had just witnessed, and ultimately rating it as something well worth seeing. It’s a unique and contentious work of art, one that is just as much at ease with the crude comedy of a fart gag as it is with a surprisingly tender death scene. And that’s one hell of a note to end a review on.

DIRECTOR: MARCO FERRERI
WRITER: MARCO FERRERI, RAFAEL AZCONA, FRANCIS BLANCHE
STARS: MARCELLO MASTROIANNI, MICHEL PICCOLI, PHILIPPE NOIRET, UGO TOGNAZZI, ANDRÉA FERRÉOL
RUNTIME: 130 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: FRANCE/ITALY

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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