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Feature


Four friends, Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), Michel (Michel Piccoli), Ugo (Ugo Tognazzi), and Philippe (Philippe Noiret), retreat to a country mansion where they are determined to eat themselves to death whilst engaging in group sex with prostitutes and a local school teacher (Andréa Ferréol), who seems to be up for anything. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

 La Grande Bouffe
You don’t have to be familiar with Italian filmmaker Marco Ferreri’s career to be familiar with the reputation of his most controversial feature, La Grande Bouffe ( The Big Feast). This pragmatically grotesque film belongs in the select pantheon of patently offensive movies made by and starring celebrated filmmakers/actors. These are a rare brand of movies that can fit a double-bill with a Federico Fellini arthouse classic as comfortably as with John Waters grindhouse junker. Often grouped with the other nasty ‘70s art trash, like Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) and Dusan Makavejev’s   Sweet Movie (1974), this first-time viewing of Ferreri’s film reminded me most of Luis Buñuel’s surrealist class warfare satires, specifically L’Age d’or (1930) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). La Grande Bouffe is unique among its counterparts in the star stature of its four male leads. None of them had been above vulgarity earlier in their careers and had, in fact, even appeared in sex comedies, but the fact that they are essentially playing themselves here is pretty scandalous.

Despite the X-rated shenanigans (the film still holds an NC-17 rating in the US, but features no hardcore imagery), overflowing toilets, a Marlon Brando impression, and excessive farting (which literally kills one character), most of La Grande Bouffe’s drama is cruel and most of its satire is as dry as a day-old baguette. Many – dare I say most – modern viewers will likely find the pure nihilism of the comedy frustrating. I know that I found myself reeling from depression by the end of this straight-faced death dirge. Ferreri’s eerily even-keeled tone and cinematographer Mario Vulpiani’s (who worked on other Ferreri films, as well as Giancarlo Santi’s stunning spaghetti western, The Grand Duel, and Antonio Bido’s hypnotic giallo, Bloodstained Shadow) dreamy, detached photography lulls the audience into a precariously cozy space where the profanity of the situation feels natural. It seems so light-hearted, only to gut-punch you in the end. Regretfully, I also have to admit the one thing film critics most hate to admit when reviewing an arthouse classic – I was not fully engaged and did, for a time, find myself bored by La Grande Bouffe. At the same time, I suspect that this sense of ennui was an intended side effect.

 La Grande Bouffe

Video


Supposedly, uncut DVD versions of La Grande Bouffe were released in the UK, France, Germany, Korea, Spain, and Russia, as well as the US via Image Entertainment and Koch Lober (most of them are out-of-print). Arrow’s simultaneous US and UK Blu-ray combo packs are the second (and third) 1080p, 1.66:1 releases of the film, following a German release from StudioCanal (a release I can’t find much info on). According to the included booklet (and opening title card), the original camera negative was scanned in 2K in France, then graded and digitally cleaned up by Arrow in London. There’s still a bit of artefacting and some minor stability problems throughout, but the overall effect is quite nice and possibly as close to ‘new’ as La Grande Bouffe can ever look. Grain structure appears accurate with only minor clumping and pulsing during the darkest shots and clarity is tight without creating over-sharpening effects. I suspect that the contrast/gamma has been set a smidge higher than Ferreri and cinematographer Mario Vulpiani intended. Shadows and darker hues are quite black (verging on crush) and some of the brighter highlights threaten to bloom. But it’s difficult to know precisely what the intended look was, especially considering how soft so much of the photography is. Any daylight scene is particularly and purposefully fuzzy, which adds to the dreamlike atmosphere. Colour quality is indeed impressive, however, by including naturalistic skin and earth tones, smooth blues, and punchy lavender and red highlights.

 La Grande Bouffe

Audio


La Grande Bouffe’s original French mono soundtrack is presented in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 and ‘pops, clicks, and buzz has been minimized or repaired’ by Arrow Films staff. The simple, largely dialogue-driven mix suffers from the minor hallmarks of an older single-channel track, including minor inconsistencies in volume and slight flattening of sound effects, but the clarity is constant and a handful of louder moments (airplane engines, chirping/quacking/honking water fowl) are full-bodied without the benefit of multi-channel mixing. Philippe Sarde’s melancholy smooth jazz musical score is sparingly used along with some in-film piano motifs (which tend to match the melody of the score) to create mood. The music sits a tad low on the track without disappearing.

 La Grande Bouffe

Extras


  • The Farcical Movie (27:10, HD) – A French television profile of Marco Ferreri that originally aired in 1975, a couple of years after Le Grande Bouffe premiered. The director waxes philosophically about the nature of his satirical movies and the meaning of farce, including the influence of Tod Browning’s Freaks, the work of animation titan Tex Avery, and, of course, Buñuel.
  • Behind-the-scenes footage from an episode of the French TV series Pour le Cinema, including interviews with Ferrari and actors Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Ugo Tognazzi, and Philippe Noiret (11:00, HD)
  • Extracts from the television series Couleurs Autour d’un Festival ( Colours Around a Festival) featuring additional interviews with the cast and crew recorded during the Cannes Film Festival in May of 1973 (4:30, SD)
  • Forming Ferreri (18:10, HD) – A new and very informative visual essay on the director by Italian film scholar Pasquale Iannone.
  • Five select scene audio commentaries by Iannone (27:20, HD)
  • Footage from the 1973 Cannes Film Festival news conference (1:40, HD)


 La Grande Bouffe

Overall


Fans of this uniquely bleak and farcical film should be delighted with Arrow’s grand (grande?) treatment of the material, as well as oodles of educational supplemental features. I certainly didn’t regret the experience, but was not entirely won over by Marco Ferreri’s brand of gross social satire. I am reminded, however, that Peter Greenaway’s similarly food-themed black comedy/surrealistic tragedy, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover hasn’t had a Blu-ray release yet and wonder if Arrow is taking requests…?

 La Grande Bouffe

 La Grande Bouffe

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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