The gastronomic orgy that is Marco Ferreri's X-rated LA GRANDE BOUFFE hits Blu-ray simultaneously on two continents courtesy of Arrow Video.
Every so often a quartet of lifelong friends – pastry chef Ugo (Ugo Tognazzi, THE APE WOMAN), TV executive Michel (Michel Piccoli, LA BELLE NOISEUSE), airline pilot Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni, LA DOLCE VITA), and judge Philippe (Philippe Noiret, CINEMA PARADISO) – shut themselves away from the world and indulge in gustatory and carnal excess. This year is different for some reason: the men have decided this year to eat themselves to death. Making their respective excuses to their loved ones (with the exception of the unattached Marcello) they gather at Philippe's childhood home, a villa in the suburbs, and take delivery of multiple pigs heads, deer, guinea fowls, live turkeys, fish, oysters, and vegetables. The meals are lovingly prepared and served in large portions (vats of pasta, mountains of potato puree, three kinds of liquor-braised pate baked in brioche) but they are not savored so much as shoveled, with belches, passed gas, and vomit leading to more helpings. Womanizer Marcello, who shows more tenderness to his vintage Bugatti kept in the villa's garage, cannot live (or die) without sex; so they send for a trio of prostitutes (Patricia Milochevitch, MONIQUE's Florence Giorgetti, and Solange Blondeau). The party is also joined by schoolteacher Andrea (Andréa Ferréol, THE TIN DRUM) whose retains her angelic gracefulness even as she proves the men's equal in appetites and is the only one of the women with the stamina to see things to the bitter end.
LA GRANDE BOUFFE can put you in a food coma without taking a bite, with the characters pained overindulgence in sumptuous meals off-putting long before the lengthy broken winds, vomiting, and explosions of diarrhea-clogged plumbing. Ingrid Bergman was on the Cannes panel that screened the film and was supposedly physically ill after seeing it, and Mastroianni's then-lover Catherine Deneuve (BELLE DU JOUR) reportedly did not speak to him for a week after they watched it together. Although there is never any concrete reason why these men have decided to cloister themselves and indulge in excess (both referencing Sade's "Salo" and anticipating the Pasolini film), but the bonds of friendship among these men are palpable and their deaths comic at face value but deeply felt by the dwindling survivors who sit them up in the windowed freezer to watch the subsequent meals. Improvising a lot of the exchanges, the four leads are completely at home with one another and totally believable as old friends while Ferréol is enchanting and angelic even at her earthiest. The other women are sketched in simpler shades with the men's significant others (A SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY's Monique Chaumette as Ugo's wife, Piccoli's own daughter Cordelia as Michel's daughter, and Michèle Alexandre as Philippe's childhood nanny who still breastfeeds him among other things) resignedly believe they spend their gatherings at brothels, but the prostitutes are an afterthought and make the very moral decision not to watch these men kill themselves. The cinematography of Mario Vulpiani (THE BLOODSTAINED SHADOW, CASTLE FREAK) is elegant yet restrained, giving Ferréol a hint of the glamour treatment that seems thematically appropriate while taking in the environments in depth rather than exploring them. The score of Philippe Sarde (THE TENANT, GHOST STORY) is composed of one cue heard throughout on a phonograph and picked out on the piano by Piccoli who receives a credit for his piano solo (Piccoli's father Henri appears as the house's caretaker Hector). The cast also includes bit parts by James Campbell (Monte Hellman's RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND and Antonioni's THE PASSENGER) and Bernard Menez (DRACULA AND SON).
LA GRANDE BOUFFE has been released on disc in the states twice before. The first was an early non-anamorphic, dead-center cropped transfer from Image Entertainment in 2000, one of their Sceneries Distribution – who apparently resubmitted the film to the MPAA for an NC-17 rating – acquisitions that also included a pre-Criterion JULIET OF THE SPIRITS, Antonioni's BEYOND THE CLOUDS, Manoel de Oliveira's PARTY, and Pupi Avati's ZEDER. That release was replaced with a 2009 edition from Koch Lorber (separately or part of a Ferreri boxed set) with an anamorphic transfer and a five minute excerpt from a Ferreri documentary as an extra (the full version was included as a separate disc on the boxed set). Arrow Video's dual-region Blu-ray/DVD combo is mastered from a 2K scan of the original negative with the grading supervised by James White. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 transfer beautifully represents Vulpiani's cinematography with a healthy sheen of grain. The French/Italian LPCM 1.0 track has also been given a crisp and clean rendition with no artifacts from the extensive digital cleanup. The optional English subtitles cover all of the dialogue, including a number of cultural references that may be missed the first time around.
Extras start off with selected scene commentary by Italian film scholar Pasquale Iannone on five scenes (27:15). The first excerpt over the introduction of the four protagonists is not particularly interesting as Iannone highlights the careers of the actors until he discusses their individual works with Ferreri and their various collaborations with one-another including Mario Monicelli's AMICI MIEI with Tognazzi and Noiret, as well as contrasting Ferreri and Claude Sautet when discussing Piccoli's role in the similarly-themed VINCENT, FRANÇOIS, PAUL AND THE OTHERS about a trio of friends facing midlife crisis. During the sequence in which Ugo and Philippe take delivery of the meat while Marcello visits his Bugatti finds Iannone commenting on the character shadings of Marcello and Michel from their clothes to the actors' offscreen friendship and whether their real-life chemistry was intended to influence the ways in which their characters are distinct from the other two. In a scene with a passing reference to lawyer turned gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and provides a handful of aphorisms from his book "The Physiology of Taste" that can apply to the film like "The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity than the discovery of a new star" although unfortunately not "Those persons who suffer from indigestion, or who become drunk, are utterly ignorant of the true principles of eating and drinking." He also explains that Tognazzi initially did his Brando impression at a New Year's party attended by Ferreri and Mastroianni, and also discusses Tognazzi's own books on cookery (the first of which featured several recipes from LA GRANDE BOUFFE). The final scene discussed is one focused on Andrea's character, during which Iannone discusses Ferréol's career.
"The Farcical Movie: Marco Ferreri" (27:09) is a 1975 segment of the French series MOMENTS OF BRAVURA in which Ferreri discusses comedy as a way to discuss things that cannot be talked about without a hint of farce, including clips from Tex Avery and Jean-Pierre Mocky's YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE. He explains that he greatly admires Luis Bunuel but dislikes being compared to him, and also discusses the Italian reception to LA GRANDE BOUFFE. Also included is a short behind the scenes (11:03) featurette, produced before they were common for the show "Pour le Cinema" in which Ferreri describes LA GRANDE BOUFFE as a film of physiology, we see the daily culinary preparations and the arrival of the cast (who say they know what kind of day it will be by the smell of the food), while the cast offer different, half-formed interpretations on the film that differ from their more public statements.
Iannone appears onscreen in "Forming Ferreri" (18:09) discussing the director's early work. Originally studying to be a vet, Ferreri went into advertising in Italy and got into cinema as production manager on Alberto Lattuada's THE OVERCOAT and producer on Michelangelo Antonioni's debut CRONACA DI UN AMORE as well as the anthology LOVE IN THE CITY. Moving to Spain, he sold photographic equipment and co-wrote THE LITTLE APARTMENT with source novel author Rafael Azcona (BELLE EPOQUE) who also penned LA GRANDE BOUFFE. That film became his directorial debut when the original director pulled out, and followed it up with the more successful EL COCHECITO (his second film LOS CHICOS ran into trouble with the Spanish censors and was not released until later). Ferreri's career took off when he returned to Italy, and Iannone highlights the major titles leading up to LA GRANDE BOUFFE including THE CONJUGAL BED, THE APE WOMAN, and THE AUDIENCE with Tognazzi (as well as THE HAREM in which he makes a split-second cameo), THE MAN WITH THE BALLOON which producer Carlo Ponti feared would ruin Mastroianni's reputation, as well as DILLINGER IS DEAD with Piccoli. The "Colours Around a Festival" (4:27) and "Cannes Film Festival News Conference" (1:42) are interesting in that they show the director and actors defending the film against pompous remarks and interpretations by critics (including one that asks Tognazzi if the farts in the film were real or sound effects). A reversible cover and booklet featuring new writing on the film by Johnny Mains were not supplied for review. (Eric Cotenas)
BACK TO REVIEWS