Cult Cinema: La Grande Bouffe

Andrew reviews the vile and disgusting, La Grande Bouffe.

“You’ve pick the most disgusting way to die!” remarks one of the characters feasting their lives away in the 1973 Italian art-house shocker La Grande Bouffe.  

"Well, you asked for ice cream!!!"
And we, the viewing public, have picked the most disgusting film to watch.  Translated to The Big Feast, the film is a debauched swan dive into wretched excess, testing the audience’s gag reflex and their ability to keep their jaws from falling to the floor.  The premise is simple: four bourgeoisie elites barricade themselves within a mansion and make a pact to hold a massive banquet, throw in three hookers to tip it into an orgy, and quite literally eat themselves to death.  No, really, you are watching these people consume until they burst over the course of two hours, some expirations worse than others including but not limited to a man dying in a puddle of his own feces.  Closer to the outrageous transgressions of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos than the ornate, symmetrical beauty and horror of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo, La Grande Bouffe begs the question: can you last as long as the characters in this movie do?

Starring Federico Fellini’s leading man Marcello Mastoianni, Phippe Noiret (the theater owner in Cinema Paradiso), Michel Piccoli and Ugo Tognazzi, La Grande Bouffe is an ensemble piece shifting from one scene of decadent overindulgence after another.  Much like Salo, La Grande Bouffe is adorned with lovely cinematography capturing the gross-out gags with the utmost care and attention to gastrointestinal detail.  Like A Serbian Film, the cool visual precision is too handsome for a film like this.  The cast of A-list Italian stars undoubtedly turn over solid performances across the board as the band of dejected upper class denizens slowly killing themselves.  All of this, however, is secondary to the real aim which is to incite viewers to recycle their dinner quicker than the characters do.  

"These grapes should get things moving......."
There are scenes of food fighting, excessive flatulence, close-ups of people gorging themselves on food, explicit sexual content including a metallic dildo, and one particularly vile episode where burst sewage pipes decorate the household with excrement.  There’s a scene where a prostitute straddles a man bloating with gas, and he agonizingly defecates himself as she mounts him.  One character becomes so stuffed he’s unable to leave his couch, and his demands that he be force fed while masturbated are met as he climaxes in the moment of death.  These are, really, just a tip of the iceberg of the completely revolting images unleashed in La Grande Bouffe.

Upon world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, La Grande Bouffe caused a scandal almost immediately, with its director being booed and spat at during a press conference.  Mastroianni’s fiancĂ©e at the time, Belle De Jour starlet Catherine Deneuve, reportedly wouldn’t speak to him for a week after they attended the premiere.  While the notoriety brewed by the onscreen antics no doubt helped box office sales, this still NC-17 rated shock fest sparked a fair share of angry fistfights at French screenings.  Intellectual film theorists were quick to equate Ferreri’s wallow in excess to the comic satire of bourgeois hollowness depicted in Spanish surrealist maestro Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, however such sentiment has clearly read far more into La Grande Bouffe than Ferreri ever did.  It is the artistic equivalent of Jackass that happens to be well made with something resembling a plot.  In the pantheon of the grossest movies of all time, La Grande Bouffe reigns high up there, and if this review has piqued your interest in seeing just how low “high-brow” French/European art cinema can possibly sink, I sincerely apologize.  

-Andrew Kotwicki