Le Grand Bouffe

This 70s French film that I happened upon, quite by accident, left an impression on me much not unlike John Water’s Pink Flamingos. Rather than camp, this “comedy” that follows a group of men who have a houseparty one weekend to eat themselves to death, is quite dark. Both are unnerving in their complete lack of moral boundaries or “sane” reference point. The worlds are guided by an inner logic that trumps that of the world we know. In this sense, they are grotesques, curiosities of culture, much like the gargoyles and corbels of the most extravagent medieval cathedrals. The viewer simply watches powerless as the characters follow out the rules that they invented for their existence to their logical, extreme end. At the end, no sudden denoument unmasks them as aberrant psychologies—no things merely end as they had to, the characters being what they are. This is itself creates a cohesiveness, a harmony to the piece, which I think is one of its better qualities. The macbre subject matter has all the appeal of the macbre, and the odd combination of horror and laughter rather conquers the disgust one feels at watching the men, on the 3rd day into their gorging, becoming sick yet forcing themselves to eat pate and confit du canard and truffles with utter abandon. Adding to the orgiastic atmosphere is the apperance of a sweet local schoolteacher who becomes utter fascinated and one of the group. Some conflict arises as she sleeps with each man. Her sex is as unisexual, as grotesque, as the manner in which they eat. Perfectly desirable things, sex and food, become utter devoid of enticement during the film. Indeed, when it ended I was quite sure I never wanted to eat again. The ambivalence I felt nearly every moment while trying to decide whether to laugh or vomit was strong, and I couldn’t stop watching though I half-wanted to. It has a harmony all its own, and the plot impels one onward. And even though I haven’t seen it since that first time 4 years ago, scenes and images stick out so clearly in my head that I feel it must be a great work of art, and one that certainly opened my eyes to a new way of viewing life.

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