‘La grande bouffe’: an uninspired meat-, fuck- and fartfest

Where did it go wrong? That’s the question that popped up in my mind, upon leaving NTGent  (Ghent), yesterday. A talented director (Johan Simons, leaving Ghent for München and the Münchner Kammerspiele, shortly), a group of gifted actors (Wim Opbrouck, Elsie de Brauw, Steven Van Watermeulen) and a classic story (four men eating themselves to death). And nevertheless La grande bouffe, Simons’ farewell to NTGent (produced in collaboration with Dutch company Toneelgroep Amsterdam) turned out to be a disappointing affair.

We’ve all been there. To that party where everybody is drunk and you seem to be the only one who is still sober. They are all laughing their heads off and you don’t have a clue about what’s going on. That’s how watching La grande bouffe felt to me. What are those actors and this director doing? And why are they doing it this way?

But first of all: the facts? La grande bouffe is based on the classic and controversial film by Marco Ferreri, from 1973, with Marcello Mastroianni and Philippe Noiret. It tells the story of four men going away for the weekend, just to eat themselves to death. A judge, a pilot, a televison executive and a chef. Why they are doing it, is never revealed. On stage the story is told (the weekend has already taken place) by two ‘survivors’: the two women who’ve joined the men during their feast.

Right from the start, it feels awkward. None of the actors seem to find the right tone. As if they’re still in doubt: do I really ‘play’ my character, or do I keep a sort of ironical distance from it? They never seem to find the right pace either. La grande bouffe drags itself toward its inevitable ending: one by one, the men die, after their meat-, fuck- and fartfest. There’s no moral questioning of all of his, but then, all of a sudden the prostitute nevertheless throws in some philosophical thoughts. It feels strange. And then, the decor. For some reason, Simons wanted to link La grand bouffe to contemporary art. All along the evening pictures of works of art by, among others, Marlene Dumas and Jeff Koons are projected on the wall of that little house the actors keep going in to. Sometimes they try to become one with the painting on that wall. It never works, and it keeps on feeling really contrived.

Where did it go wrong?

For the YouTube-trailer of  ‘La grande bouffe’ (NTGent/Toneelgroep Amsterdam), click here. You’ll find the touring schedule here.


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