Saturday, 12 September 2015

Blu-ray Review: La Grande Bouffe (Arrow Academy)

Marco Ferreri's "La Grande Bouffe" caused quite a stir at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, and if you focus soely on the darker side of this film, there's certainly plenty to get your teeth into.
However, this is really a story about friendship: four professionals who are at ease in each others company.
We have Philippe (Phillipe Noiret); a judge who enjoys sexual favours from his nanny and is a complete opposite to the more playful members of the quartet: Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), an impotent airline pilot and Michel (Michel Piccoli); a TV executive who brings his own baggage to proceedings. The last member of this exclusive gentlemans club is Ugo (Ugo Tognazzi); a chef who brings an expensive set of knives to what is described as a "gastronomic seminar."
The men have decided to stay at the house of Philippe's parents, now solely occupied by their servant Hector (played by Michel Piccoli's father, Henri) and simply eat themselves to oblivion.
The men hire a trio of prostitutes to enliven the event, and Philippe's refusal to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh leaves him a prime candidate for the attentions of schoolteacher Andrea (Andrea Ferreol). When she appears with a group of children to view a lime tree that French poet Boileau used to sit under, we expect a rather staid lady who will soon depart from this den of iniquity. In fact, Andrea goes on to outperform the whores and match the men bite for bite, agreeing to become Philippe's wife and then proceed to indulge in carnal and culinary pursuits with great abandon.
When the hookers eventually bale out, it's left to Andrea to provide the entertainment, while endeavouring to become a calming influence amidst food chaos. In many ways, Ferreol is the absolute centre of this film, delivering a top-notch performance.

It has to be said the banqueting scenes are indeed grotesque: we witness oyster speed eating; beef, lamb, wild baor, guinea fowl, and pizza are shovelled down in a riot of cooking and consuming and - in one hilarious scene - the toilet even gives out, exploding in a white-flag moment that does nothing to deter the participants of this banquet from hell. This really is a tour de farce, with some great humour but possibly not for those with weak stomachs. There are, however, more sedate scenes that will haunt the memory for long after: witness dear departed friends placed upright in a cold room, watching over those still living. It's a scene that further amplifies the sense of comradeship that ties these men.
It's exquisitely performed by the stellar cast, and beautifully shot by Mario Vulpiani, whose work can be fully appreciated on Arrow Academy's Blu-ray presentation.

This is a fine restoration, scanned in 2K, with the mono soundtrack transferred from the original 35mm magnetic tracks. Image quality is excellent, enabling us to discern fine detail and better appreciate the colour schemes and, of course, that glorious (?) food.
The supplementary features begin with "The Farcical Movie: Marco Ferreri" (27m 9s)
This episode of "Morceaux de bravoure", directed by Georges Paumrer, was originally broadcast in April 1975.
Ferreri is asked what comedy means to him; explains that while he's a Bunuel fan, he doesn't like being compared to him, and cites comedy as being a "dangerous genre". He also mentions Tod Browning's "Freaks", Tex Avery and Bunuel's "Nazarin" and there are clips from "The Ape Woman" and "L'harem" amongst others.

Behind-The-Scenes (11m 35s)
An episode of "Pour le Cinema", broadcast in April 1973. Here, the male quartet of actors talk about the amount of improvisation in the film, with Togazzi stating a script was the last thing they saw.
Noiret talks about the use of chefs from top restaurants to cook the food and Ferreri is described as a man of poetic nature.

"Colours Around A Festival" (4m 28s)
Broadcast in May 1973, just weeks after the Cannes screening, this one also benefits from the input of the actors. Piccoli states he's proud of the film, while Noiret explains the actors brought more to this production than other films they were just instruments in: the fact that the main players all used their christian name for their own role is rather apt.

Forming Ferreri (18m9s)
Italian film scholar Pasquale Iannone serves up an excellent introduction to the director, covering his early days; his move to Madrid after getting nowhere in Rome and the troubles he had with censors. We hear about some of the great performers he worked with, and of his success on the festival circuit.

Selected Scene Commentary (27m 15s)
Pasquale makes a welcome return for this featurette, which contains commentary for 5 scenes from the film, including a look at Andrea Ferreol who he notes was in her mid-twenties when this film was made. Paqual highlights Ugo's wonderful Brando impression and the careers of the four male leads, including their work for Ferreri.

Cannes Film Festival News Conference (1m 42s)
A brief snippet from Cannes, where the director defends his film with gusto.

The extras are concluded by a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Johnny Mains, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
"La Grande Bouffe" is available to buy now, and is Region A/B.

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