OUR relationship with food has never been more complicated. Food choices involve debates and issues about health, society, ethics and beauty. Obesity currently stands as one of the biggest societal concerns. LA GRANDE BOUFFE (Marco Ferreri 1973), a comedy about four men eating themselves to death, shows just how complicated our relationship with food is. It asks: is gluttony a pleasure or a disgusting sin that will result in our premature death?
LA GRANDE BOUFFE takes place in a villa in Paris, where chef, Ugo (Ugo Tognazzi) perpetually cooks opulent and grand dishes for himself and his three friends Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), Michel (Michel Piccoli) and Philippe (Philippe Noiret). The intricately prepared dishes invite in us a desire to eat, to achieve the same pleasure as the characters, while contemplating the luxury of the food. Gluttony, to begin with, creates a positive response, connecting food with pleasure and beauty.
The way the characters eat, combined with how the film is shot, illustrates eating as a sensual activity. Andrea (Andréa Ferréol) seductively licks a leg of chicken before eating it. Mouths are the focus and the sounds that they make. Food creates sexual pleasure, emphasising the sinful aspect of food. The film also represents a modern social media trend of posting pictures of tempting, luscious food while referring to “foodgasms”. This is achieved through the endless images of food, but the link between food and sex is also reinforced by the hiring of prostitutes for the occasion. The fact that the prostitutes become so disgusted with their customers that they feel the need to flee suggests that food is more sinful and decadent than sex. Food is therefore associated with wealth, sex and decadence, turning eating into a sinful activity.
However, this association of food to pleasure – sexual, aesthetic and taste – is quickly turned into disgust. Not only is the food too excessive to the point of being nauseating, the narrative also depicts an important part of the process of eating: defecation. Michel contracts indigestion because he was taught not to break wind and at a certain point there is a flood of excrement as a result of a broken pipe. These images are not as easy to stomach as those delicious dishes. Eating ceases to be a luxurious, pleasurable activity; food is no longer beautiful or sensual. On the contrary, eating turns into a repugnant activity that creates nausea. The urgency of eating – fast, careless and with their hands – contrasts the never-ending amount of food and illustrates the sin of gluttony. The film offers its critique of the gluttonous, decadence and over-consumption of the upper class.
In LA GRANDE BOUFFE, food takes on different representations, starting with beauty, decadence, wealth and finishing with disgust, nausea and sin. The film compels us to think about society’s - and our own - relationship with food. It shows how eating might not be sinful but gluttony certainly is and it results in obesity and death. LA GRANDE BOUFFE will certainly remove any gluttonous feelings its viewers might have.