As many of us know, 1970s cinema was a changing time in a new kind of filmmaking, where the content was more sexually graphic and explicit than the decades before it. The most pivotal films of this kind included Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris and Pasolini's Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom, which were censored and banned outright. But since then, the shock of these films have become tamer and less explicit than films now are. Director Marco Ferreri's scandalous 1973 cult feature, La Grande Bouffe (The Big Feast), his once extremely controversial "food and sex" epic, joins these batch of films that are more watchable now then they were when first released.
Four iconic Italian actors: Marcello Mastroianni, Philippe Noiret, Ugo Toonazzi, and Michel Piccoli play our main protagonists, who also use their real names as their characters. Mastroianni plays the pilot whose sex drive is never complete; Noiret, the judge who lives with an overprotective nanny who looks almost the same age as he does; Toonazzi, a chef, whose fed up with trying to enjoy his own appetites; and Piccoli, a TV producer who feels that he has gone as far as he can to increase the medium. These four men join together at a villa where they agree to literally eat themselves to death, engage in group sex with prostitutes, and meet a schoolteacher (Andrea Ferreoi) who seems to be game for anything.
While there is much black humor, don't be fooled by it, since it surfaces an insane level of cynical bleakness that is hard to stomach (no pun intended). There are more questions than answers, considering we don't really know how these men actually know each other, or why the schoolteacher decides to remain with them as the other women leave after being disgusted with the men's debauchery and overconsumption.
There is no happy ending or redemption for these men, as they each eventually die in strange ways: Marcello freezes to death while trying to leave the villa, where in an unusually tender moment, Michel cradles him in his arms and screams. Later, Michel literally craps himself to death, Ugo dies of a heart attack as Philippe constantly feeds him, and Philippe himself dies in Andrea's arms. The final moments of film include the meat men delivering more meat to the villa as Andrea goes back into it alone.
Although it is rather long, La Grande Bouffe stands out the most in Ferreri career, even surpassing his own 1969 masterpiece Dillinger is Dead, because it not only refuses to answer its own ambiguity, but it also refuses to be subtle about its message of any society destroying itself to death. In terms of this matter, the film strangely succeeds despite its uncomfortable content.
Arrow's Blu-ray/DVD combo of La Grande is a great way to appreciate this rather odd, but oddly worthy film. Their new 2k restoration cleans up the picture and makes it easier to see every detail, the way that Ferreri meant for it to be. The special features don't disappoint either because they include a 1975 TV profile of Ferreri in which he talks about the influences Tex Avery, Luis Bunuel, and Tod Browning had on his career; behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the film including interviews with the cast and crew; exceprts from the stormy 1975 Cannes Film Festival with cast and crew; a visual essay by film scholar Pasquale Iannone; a selected-scene commentary by Iannone; and a news report centering on the film's controversy. Rounding out the release is a reversible sleeve with the original cover art by Gilles Vranckx and a booklet with a new essay by Johhny Mathis that includes stills and posters.
To people with a taste for unusual cinema, they will get a kick out of La Grande Bouffe, because it is a depressingly discomforting tale of lost freedom and awkward passions. It pulls no punches about its subject matter, but you may want to have some Pepto Bismol and gas relief with you, just in case.