Arrow Films' recent release, Marco Ferreri's 1973 extremely dark comedy La Grande Bouffe, is unlikely to leave spectators indifferent - for better or for worse. Upon release, the film divided the public, who either hailed it as a masterwork of cutting social and political satire, or condemned it, as Roger Erbert caustically put it, as as a nihilistic 'chronicle of gluttony and self-hate'.
Four bourgeois men, airline pilot Marcello (Mastroianni), chef Ugo (Tognazzi), TV executive Michel (Piccoli) and judge Philippe (Noiret) take up residence in an isolated mansion to enjoy lavish meals and female company (in the form of three prostitutes and a primary school teacher). The purpose of the debauched feast soon becomes clear: the four protagonists plan to commit suicide by eating themselves to death.
Similar in tone to Luis Buñuel's 'ensemble' films (chiefly The Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie), and presenting some similarities to Pier Paolo Pasolini's work (Ferreri himself had already appeared in Pasolini's Pigsty), La Grande Bouffe can be a bit of an endurance test for some viewers, as things get more and more decadent, outrageous (or simply disgusting) as the men's voracious appetite spirals out of control. Ferreri's long, observant takes, and the film's earthy colours also add to the effect. Luckily, the charm of the stellar cast and the underlying absurdist joviality soften the blow a little, without detracting from the harsh comment on the over-indulgence of consumerist culture.
Arrow's transfer is crisp and the DVD comes with an array of extras, including behing the scene footage and interviews with the director and the main actors. Here's hoping for more Ferreri's work to receive similar treatment.
La Grande Bouffe is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.