La Grande Bouffe Marco Ferreri (1973 Fr, It) Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Phillippe Noiret, Ugo Tognazzi, Andrea Ferreole Viewed: 4 Aug 2015 Tyneside Cinema Ticket: £8.50
Fin de partie
In the best epater and fuck the Bourgeoisie tradition, La Grande Bouffe is an uncomfortable film to watch. Garnished with black humour its scatological scenario centres on the social and physical relations of the great orifices. The caste glide through the film effortlessly acting out the gross and indecent gestures and directions, guided by the mechanics of a script and scenario which offer them the safety of detached but implicated roles.
Watching La Grande Bouffe I was reminded of the terrible ordeal of the Trough. The Trough was the cruel means of execution meted out to traitors (and others) in the Archaemenid (early Persian) Empire. The theatre of the Trough went as follows: first the condemned was fed a large sumptuous feast. He was then placed in a stone tough which was covered over with a stone slab that left only his head sticking out. He continued to be fed rich foods, spooned into his mouth by beautiful maids. But inevitably and inexorably he would evacuate the contents of his stomach, emptying the contents of his bowels into the stone trough where he wallowed in the deepening pool of fetid slime of his own making. As the victim sat in his own foulness his body was slowly and painfully eaten by the bacteria from his own shit.
In the course of this gruesome ordeal the victim was witness to the spectacle of his own death. Perforce his attention directed to the fact that the forces of physical corruption that were consuming and destroying his body were directly related to the corrupt moral forces that had infected his mind. The Trough was a metaphysical lesson for the King’s subjects: that moral turpitude was a process replicated in and on the actual body. The instructive nature of the Trough was not lost on spectators and calls to mind Kafka’s short story : In the Penal Colony. Of sorts, a story of mindful replication: infraction on the moral plane being inscribed physically upon the body of the perpetrator, as a death sentence.
Watching La Grande Bouffe I see a similar moral lesson being played out for today’s spectators. The four male protagonists are consumed by the forces at play in a social system overwhelmed by the excesses of individual desire. A society driven to the frenzy of self annihilation by a capitalistic moral and social imperative that has reduced all relations to the operation of profit and power. And in La Grande Bouffe the cock and the mouth are the chosen emblematic means that point directly to this corruption. The strength of La Grande Bouffe as film is that it is not symbolic; it films image to point directly to effect.
Ferreri is a director of the warrior class. In La Grande Bouffe and Dillinger is Dead he wields film like a battle axe to smash through the glass plated hypocrisy of the times. At its most straightforward Bouffe documents bourgeois society no longer defined by self satisfied mechanical rectitude, but now defined by self satisfied mechanical excess. Wealth food leisure sex all reduced to the satiation of desire. Ferreri’s understanding is that this is a society in the process of self destruction. Bourgeois society, in a spiralling cycle of out of control consumption, will dissolve in its own excreta.
Perhaps Ferreri was thinking of another cycle of degeneration that was clearly seen. The processes that led Communism to destroy itself in the 1930’s 40’s ‘50’s, purging itself to the point of complete denigration, so that in the end all that was left was a group of geriatric psychopathic tyrants.
The active force filmed in Ferreri’s scenario is the social dominance and arrogance of the male. This is a sufficient but not necessary condition of the film’s moral purpose. But it is maleness that is made exemplary. It is what the film points to with its images of the four guys exercising their orifacial prerogative. What we see is the unfolding of Ferriri’s uncompromising logic of truth when life is driven by desire. So the men’s behaviour makes for hard viewing, and in as much as the film in making a truth statement, it defies the viewer to avert their eyes
Like Bunuel’s films, La Grande Bouffe uses film to show the viewer directly what is actually happening. In the blasphemous feast in Viridiana, we see directly the destructive forces unleashed by the situation; in the entirely different social setting of ‘Bouffe’ we see another type of nihilistic behaviour. The men’s mouths and cocks serve the same purpose – saturation through power. The men stuff their mouths with the food their power commands; they strut their cocks which they expect and demand of the women to suck stroke insert. Prostitutes are hired to perform whatever is demanded by the men’s whim, as when Marcello picking up the Bugatti’s exhaust manifold tells the prostitute that he’s going to stick it up her cunt instead of his prick. She smiles and says: that’s OK.
Ferreri shows a society reduced to the gestures of exploitation and excess. Looking back to 1973, it’s interesting that this time also witnesses the burgeoning of the new radical feminism. It would be difficult given today’s political discourses to produce a homocentric film of this nature, but certainly possible to make a film that implicated both men and women in amplified cycles of corrupted desires. What is lacking is the film climate that would permit the complete honesty, possessed by Ferreri Bunual Bergman, needed to make a film that pointed directly and logically to the corruptions that underpin our consumer society of appearances.
Interesting that in Ferreri’s script, it is the woman Adrea (wonderfully personated by Andrea Ferreole) who is the only survivor of La Grande Bouffe. She cooks eats fucks wanks, equals in all respects the men. She remains the only one left standing to oversee the second delivery of the meats which will never be eaten. She stands perhaps as a portent of a future in which overweening desire will also take on the female visage.
Adrin Neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org