La Grande Bouffe Blu-ray Review

Marco Ferreri’s 1973 film shocked people with vulgar gluttony at its Cannes Film Festival debut

Italian director Marco Ferrari’s La Grande Bouffe will certainly polarize its viewing audience. The 1973 film scandalized audiences in its debut at the Cannes Film Festival. Ferrari’s best-known work before it was Dillinger is Dead, a darkly satiric fantasy. Offensive, absurd and grotesquely humorous, the French farce is a deeply allegorical satire of the bourgeoisie. Four wealthy men make a pact to end it all in an orgy of gluttonous eating and other crude behavior. Is La Grande Bouffe a sophisticated leftist deconstruction of bourgeois society, or merely a crude indulgence by a talented but arrogant cast?

Four wealthy men from respectable walks of life, all close friends, retire for an extended stay at a Parisian villa where they plan to eat themselves to death off fine cuisine. The proposition is taken with such calm lucidity in La Grande Bouffe, the audience has no reason to balk at it. Ugo, Michel, Philippe and Marcello represent the bourgeoisie in various ways. Marcello (played by international star Marcello Mastroianni) throws a wild card into the mix when he realizes this death wish won’t succeed for himself without ample amounts of sex. Prostitutes are invited to join the party, turning the final days of these men’s lives into a strange amalgam of carefree sex and heavy eating.

The bizarre, fantastic premise is not meant to be taken literally in La Grande Bouffe. Much of its shocking power is seeing renowned thespians like Michel Piccoli and Marcello Mastroianni gorge themselves on screen, indulging their sweet tooth in a seemingly never-ending parade of food. The NC-17 rating seems a bit over-done in my estimation. Ferreri’s film is clearly intended as goofy satire. One of its signature motifs are farts given off by the four men as they attempt to digest their outrageous feasts. There is a complex metaphor in there somewhere about bourgeois society’s incessant need for a death wish as they continue stuffing themselves. They are so full of hot air, the men need to constantly pass gas to relieve the pressure.

The pitch-black comedy wanders back and forth between the tedious and outrageous.

La Grande Bouffe moves along briskly and its opening act is so relaxed as to be almost comatose. Only deep into the film does its social and political commentary become apparent. The four men become far more interesting when a school teacher, Andrea, joins the festivities. Her character becomes essential to this death march through gluttony the men have embarked on. The pitch-black comedy wanders back and forth between the tedious and outrageous. What begins as shocking becomes somewhat repetitive by the final act.

This is a film that invites questions about its true themes. You experience La Grande Bouffe more than watch it. It is a statement film that explores somewhat outmoded ways of thinking about society apropos of its time and place. What was once shocking and out there has lost much of its contextual power. What remains is a silly farce with some social value that may be too long. Some have called it a sick joke from talented filmmakers, while others have called it a masterpiece of trash cinema. You make the call.

Movie★★★☆☆

La Grande Bouffe Blu-ray screen shot 9

Arrow Films has exclusively restored La Grande Bouffe for this pleasant, film-like Blu-ray presentation. This statement has been furnished by them in the included booklet:

The original camera negative was scanned in 2K resolution on a pin-registered Arriscan at Eclair Labs, Paris. The film was graded on the Baselight grading system at Deluxe Restoration, London.

Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and light scratches were removed through a combination of digital restoration tools…La Grande Bouffe has a prominent grainy appearance throughout, and that original look and texture has been faithfully retained in this presentation.

Arrow’s excellent new film restoration and transfer does wonders for the 1973 film. Supervised by Arrow’s James White, the film transfer brings out firm levels of detail while remaining film-like in its authenticity. The 129-minute main feature is presented at its intended exhibition in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The 1080P video presentation is included on a BD-50 in a fully transparent AVC video encode.

The fresh film scan pulls out excellent clarity from the negative. Contrast and black levels are solid throughout the movie, if slightly erratic in a few scenes. The grain reproduction shows little notable processing. I would call it more on the level of minor tinkering. Its definition and depth are great for softer film from this era. Chroma resolution abounds in fully saturated primary colors.

Video ★★★★☆

La Grande Bouffe is a strange film from the standpoint of music and score. A song and a few bits of music from Philippe Sarde show up but the movie doesn’t have much of an underscore. The audio is a French 1.0 PCM presentation. Arrow includes this statement about the audio restoration they performed:

The French language mono soundtrack was transferred from the original magnetic reels by Roissy Films at VDM Labs, Paris, and audio issues such as bumps, clicks and audible buzz were repaired, minimized, or removed.

The dialogue-driven film has perfectly intelligible recording quality in modern-sounding clarity. The loudest effects end up being rather loud fart noises. Optional English subtitles appear in a white font. This is capable PCM sound that is likely a perfect representation of the film’s original.

Audio ★★★☆☆

La Grande Bouffe receives what is fast becoming the standard accompaniment of special features in a handsome package. The combo package includes both a DVD and Blu-ray for the film, encased in Arrow’s trademark clear Blu-ray case. A 30-page booklet with stills and new essays on the film has a cool piece on then contemporary reviews of the film. A randomly-inserted postcard advertising one of Arrow’s new releases is also included for hardcore collectors. Arrow Video distributes this Blu-ray in both America and the UK, so it is coded for Regions A and B.

The featurettes are an interesting mix of vintage television specials and new ones made by Arrow.

  • The Farcical Movie (27:09 in HD) – A French television profile of director Marco Ferreri from April 1975 in which the director discusses, among other things, the influence of Tex Avery, Luis Buñuel and Tod Browning’s Freaks.
  • Behind-the-scenes (11:03 in HD) – April 1973 footage of the making of La Grande Bouffe, containing interviews with Ferrari and actors Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Ugo Tognazzi and Philippe Noiret.
  • Colors Around A Festival (04:28 in HD) – Extracts from the television series Couleurs autour d’un festival featuring interviews with the cast and crew recorded during the Cannes Film Festival in May 1973.
  • Forming Ferreri (18:09 in HD) – A modern visual essay on the film by Italian film scholar Pasquale Iannone digging into the director’s early work.
  • Select scene audio commentary by Iannone (27:15 in HD) – The knowledgeable film scholar briefly covers five select scenes. The commentary is a little robotic for my tastes but perfectly informative about the cast.
  • News report from the Cannes Film Festival (01:42 in HD) – A clip from when La Grande bouffe caused a controversial stir, including Ferreri at the press conference.
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
  • Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Johnny Mains, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

Extras ★★★☆☆

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.