"A wild boar, ready for the most subtle marinades...two superb deers with soft eyes, flesh imbued with the perfumes of the Clouves forest...ten dozen semi-wild guinea fowls fed on grain and juniper...three dozen innocent Ardennes cockerels...one dozen chickens from and around Bresse...a hindquarter of beef from the rich pastures of Charolais...five dozen innocent salt-meadow lambs from Mont Saint-Michel..." Since this is a family site I won't describe the delights of the prostitutes they've also ordered. You'll see those soon enough.
When these four sophisticated men, ennui leaking from their souls like the fluid draining from those two superb deers, speak of kissing the oyster, it's not the oysters they have in mind. In fact, what they seem to welcome is death by satiation. If food and sex are humankind's two glorious distractions from boredom, these four men discover a way to check out with a belch and a groan. It will be glorious, endless dinner at the unused Paris manse of one of them. The Whore Menu will be a masterpiece..."a sauté of fat and lean given by four gourmet epicureans for three young ladies in twelve courses. Crayfish a la Mozart on a bed of rice with sublime Aurore Sauce...soft-shell lobster served as a first course..." The dinner will be memorable...four jaded men, three whores and Andrea (Andrea Ferreol), a schoolteacher. And we're only 44 minutes into this more than two-hour movie. One thing for sure, There'll have to be breakfast
What on earth are we to make of the tired lives, mounds of kidneys bordelaise and pointless exits of Marcello the pilot (Marcello Mastroianni), Michel the television big shot (Michel Piccoli), Philippe the judge (Philippe Noiret) and Ugo the chef (Ugo Tognazzi)? Much can be read into this movie, and much has. I suspect that the more some people natter on about its meaning, the less meaning it has. What it does have, however one-note the movie becomes, is the intense flavor of La Grande Black Comedy. The four men become clueless comedians in their own overly nuanced sophisticated pleasures and jaded feelings. If we didn't quickly realize that Marcello, Michel, Philippe and Ugo weren't just grownup, spoiled children, stunted in their approach to women as well as food (and acted by four superb artists), La Grande Bouffe might deflate under its own weight. Even as the whores depart, we still have the schoolteacher, a woman of unexpected delights and comforts. She brings a certain wholesomeness to sex on a kitchen table. Like an encouraging pairing of wine and cheese, she makes sex and food a pleasure...and she pairs well with Philippe for a while.
Some fine black comedies may end sadly; they don't all need to end with irony. I'll admit that the last line in the movie, "Is it all right like that, Ma'am? Meat in the garden?" comes close.