Do not watch this movie. Watch The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie instead.
Both films critique bourgeoisie excess and the decline of French (and to some extent, Western) civilization. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie manages to do all of the above while keeping the tone light and stimulating, while La Grande Bouffe (The Great Feast) takes forever and a day to set up the story, makes an obvious argument, and then beats a dead horse for another hour and a half of repetitive orgiastic nonsense.
The film runs over two hours long, which is roughly an hour longer than it really ought to be. The first act is entirely forgettable, save an unnerving scene between Philippe (Philippe Noiret) and his incestuous, mother-like relative. The plot is simple and too bluntly satirical: four men decide to literally stuff themselves to death by consuming mass quantities of gourmet food.
The film makes obvious arguments regarding French civilization and the consumerist classes. Many of these arguments come straight from the mouth of pastry chef Ugo (Ugo Tognazzi). La Grande Bouffe features excellent French and Italian actors, well known for their times. However, the script doesn’t leave much room for the actors to maneuver. Philippe is immature and needs women with ample bosoms to pander over him. Ugo likes cooking. Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) lieks sex. Michel (Michel Piccoli) is possibly gay.
The only character with any depth is Andréa Ferréol‘s Andréa, a Rubenesque schoolteacher with a surprisingly hedonistic sensibility. Ferréol imbues the role with a tender sensitivity that at once contrasts and complements her character’s voracious appetite. Andréa joins the men in their orgy of decadence, but, unlike them, she never grows pale with exhaustion. She remains fresh and dewy under director Marco Ferreri‘s soft Golden Age lighting. The other characters are filmed in neutral light.
Ferreri succeeds in making his point about consumption and excess. He includes a bounty of symbols, most of which are obvious. The humans and animals make similar sounds as man loses his civilized qualities. The Bugatti can run, but never makes it out of the yard; the men waste their abilities, unable to leave the mansion.
The first act is overly solemn. The second, exuberant but strained. The third, monotonous and much, much too long. Ferreri uses crass humor, graphic (and idiotic) sex, and disgusting scenes of overconsumption to prove his point. It’s a point that could have easily been made in a thirty minute short film. Over two hours? Torture.