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Delicatessen is hard to pin down under a specific genre label; it's a
surreal black comedy, a human drama, a post-apocalyptic horror movie, a
twisted thriller, a futuristic fantasy; and all in all; one of the
strangest and most original films I've ever seen.
In this fantasy world, the world has been ravaged and food is now in short supply. This has therefore made food invaluable and it is being used as currency. Things are traded for with grain, corn and lentils, but not everyone can afford the luxury of food, and some have had to resort to cannibalism to continue to enjoy eating. Our scene opens at a delicatessen in an unspecified location in France, and we are treated to an absolutely delicious sequence (no pun intended) in which a man is desperately trying to hide himself in the trash can. We later find that the reason for this is that this particular delicatessen hires handymen and keeps them long enough to fatten them up, and then they are eaten by the delicatessen's butcher and the inhabitants of the apartment building in which they live. The story really gets going when an ex-clown turns up at the shop, wanting the handyman's job, which has...become available. The plot thickens when the new handyman meets, and later falls in love with, the butcher's daughter; Julie. Julie knows what goes on at the delicatessen and can't allow her new found love to meet the same fate as the others, and therefore does the only thing she can do; hire a band of vegetarian freedom fighters to save her love from becoming dinner for the butcher and his customers.
Delicatessen is directed by the team of Marc Caro (whom, I'm afraid, I am unfamiliar with) and the more well known Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of a few lesser known modern classics, but best known for the enthusiastic 'Amelie'. The film is brought to life by a brilliant ensemble cast. Dominique Pinon (who also featured in Jeunet's Amelie, Alien 4 and City of Lost Children) takes the lead role of the clown turned handyman. His performance is both understated and magical; as he simultaneously manages to entice the viewer into his performance, and yet keeps his character in the realms of reality (a place in which this film doesn't take place). Jean-Claude Dreyfus is the real star of the show, however, as the extroverted and over the top butcher. His performance certainly isn't subdued, to say the least; and every moment that he is on screen is a delight. In a stark contrast to Dreyfus, Marie-Laure Dougnac; the young lady that plays his daughter and love interest for Pinon is very down to earth, and is the most 'normal' character in the film...although there's still room for her to be a nearly blind klutz. The rest of the ensemble comes together excellently, and not a single actor in the film performs below par or looks out of place; and there's not many films that you can say that for.
This film isn't quite like anything else I've ever seen. In fact, the only film I can think of that is similar to this is Terry Gilliam's futuristic fantasy; Brazil. The film draws it's originality from it's plot mainly, which is extremely surreal and inventive in itself, but it's not just that which makes Delicatessen one of a kind; it's all the smaller plot points. How many films do you know that feature a bullshit detector? (that is set off when the butcher tells it that "life is wonderful", no less). The way that the film looks is also wonderfully different; Delicatessen has a yellow hue, which lends it a style that is very dull and dreary; and that does the film no end of favours when you consider it's core subject material. The yellow hue also makes the film almost feel like a moving comic book, which is one of the things that gives the film it's surreal and absurd edge. I'm a big fan of atmospheric films, which is one of the main reasons why I like horror so much; and this film also has an atmosphere like no other. It's the way that the yellow-ish buildings look next to the dark skyline, and the way that the film uses darkness and smoke to make it more horrifying (see roof sequence towards the end) that gives this film the finishing touch to it's already distinct style.
The love story in the film is sweet and tender, and this very much offsets the dark overtones of the rest of the film. This is nice, as during the scenes between the clown (Pinon) and Julie (Dougnac), the film allows itself to indulge in humour that isn't dark like the rest of the film, and you get the impression that it's enjoying itself a little more. This is just another thing in a long line of great things that make Delicatessen a great movie. Another of these things is the more minor characters. I have never seen a more motley crew than the one in this film. As previously mentioned, Julie, although not entirely 'normal', is the most normal character in the film; the rest of it is populated by lunatics. There's a man with a house full of frogs, a woman that continually tries to commit suicide, a man that puts cans on his deaf mother in law so they know where she is etc. The support cast's wackiness don't add anything much to the story itself (which only really requires them to be there), but the fact that they are different and imaginative is another of the film's absurd edges, and another thing that makes this film different from everything else.
Delicatessen concentrates more on being absurd and surreal than it does in posing deep and philosophical questions. Personally, I have no problem with that, but those who do want a movie to be deep and meaningful might find the film disappointing because of that. That is not to say that the film completely lacks depth or meaning; although a moral to the story doesn't seem to present itself, the film takes it's depth from the 'what if' scenario that it presents; "if the world's food supply became too short to feed the population, would you resort to cannibalism or join the vegetarian freedom fighters?". It's a very general message; but it's definitely there.
Overall, Delicatessen is a sublime piece of cinema. You wont find imagination and inventiveness to the extent that it is shown here in most films, and that alone is reason enough to warrant this classic status. Delicatessen is everything I say it is and more; and overall the film is one of the true highlights of the 1990's. A gem.
If Citizen Kane is the number one movie to see to learn anything about
cinematography, this might as well be at number 2.
Delicatessen succeeds at creating a totally separate, consistent and believable universe with a very distinct atmosphere. The brown and green colors add to the weirdness of this universe.
Is it horror? Yes and no. Is it a comedy? Yes and no. Is it brilliant? Oh yes!
Everybody involved in the making of this picture gave it its best. The camera work is brilliant, the sets are simply amazing (with the final bathroom scene at the pinnacle), the editing and pace is breathtaking.
This could have been a very dark movie (and I guess a few Hollywood directors would have tried to turn it into a splatter movie and fail miserably), but the humor is just light, off-beat and hilarious enough to make it into a consistent and bearable whole. Every universe has its humor, and a strange universe has strange humor. Jacques Tati would have loved Delicatessen.
Julie's 'tea ceremony' without her glasses, the mattress spring test, Aurore's failing suicide contraptions, it's all funny as hell. I hope everyone who is even marginally involved in making movies gets to see Delicatessen and learns from its greatness. We could sure use a touch of genius in most of them ...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Delicatessen' is a very original comedy from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who
also directed the great 'Amélie'. It tells the story of Louison
(Dominique Pinon) who is the new helper of a landlord named Clapet
(Jean-Claude Dreyfus). Clapet is a butcher and in a world where food is
rare he prepares cannibalistic meals for the people in his building.
Louison is the new meal and the people in the building wait for Clapet
to kill him so they can eat. Clapet's daughter Julie (Marie-Laure
Dougnac) falls in love with Louison and to save him she seeks help from
an underground group.
You have read the above and you must understand 'Delicatessen' is not a normal movie. Although its subject is close to very scary the movie is a comedy and to be honest it is very funny at times. Listen to the way people talk here. Especially the conversation between the butcher and a mailman is very funny. The underground group gets a lot of laughs as well. The movie hints at real horror images but never gives us that. Most of the time the tension is broken with something funny.
'Delicatessen' is not only pretty funny, it looks terrific as well. From the great opening sequence to the last shot it is visually perfect. The production design and especially the cinematography add a lot to the movie's whole atmosphere. May be it is not for everyone, some will find it ridiculous or the idea too lugubrious, may be it is, but the way the subject is handled is the right way. At least it is interesting and therefore already worth seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) is a butcher who runs the generically
named "Delicatessen" housed in a bombed-out looking apartment building
filled to the brim with eccentrics. Since food is scarce in the film's
world, Clapet has devised a scheme to provide himself and his tenants
with a regular supply of meat--he runs ads in the local paper for
handymen, and after they fix a few things on the building, they become
the main course. When the film begins, we see a man who tries
unsuccessfully to escape. The bulk of the film is the story of Stan
Luison (Dominique Pinon), who is the latest person to answer Clapet's
This film is definitely an acquired taste, so to speak. I've acquired the taste, and for me, it's a 10 out of 10. Delicatessen is set in a weird, post-apocalyptic, alternate universe that is not entirely dissimilar to the setting of Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985)--in fact, this could very easily be the same world as Brazil, just that that film is situated in its titular locale, and this would be a less fashionable section of France. Like Brazil, most of the production design--the costumes, music, television programming, etc.--suggests an historic setting, say about the 1940s, but it also seems to be set in the future, or at least an alternate present.
In place of Brazil's elaborate, chaotic technology, directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet have created a multi-leveled Rube Goldberg construction. Goldberg was an American cartoonist and sculptor known for drawings of incredibly complex contraptions that often performed simple tasks. This recurs from small scales--the interconnected tubes in the building and the uses of the "Australian", to medium scalesAurore Interligator's (Silvie Laguna) attempted suicide set-ups, to the grand scale of the film, where each character, or set of characters, is interlocking in different ways that has a small, but complex causal effect on the whole. Sometimes, these concatenations are more simultaneous than causal, as in the ingenious "bedspring symphony" near the beginning of the film.
Appropriate to its ultimate subject matter, the visuals are focused on decay and dinginess. The delicatessen is filthy and the apartment building is falling apart. The tenants own a lot of broken things, and for those things that aren't broken, there's a good chance they'll get broken as the film progresses. (And by the way, if you love the production design and atmosphere of the film, and wouldn't mind seeing something with a similar mood, but serious instead of a surrealistic "black comedy" like Delicatessen, check out David Cronenberg's Spider (2002)).
All the tenants have various eccentricities, often involving food. One of the most interesting tenants is an old man who decided to harvest his own meals by turning his apartment into a swamp, via regularly running water flooding the apartment, and inhabited by frogs and snails. He has a huge pile of empty snail shells stacking up in a corner. Water is a motif in the film--probably because of its relationship to food, as a means of necessary nourishment, although ironically, in a world characterized by food shortages, water is mostly wasted in the film.
While not a depressing film (it wasn't to me, at least, although not that I dislike "depressing" films), Delicatessen isn't exactly uplifting, either, although there is a message of hope at the end, I suppose. It's definitely not for all audiences, but if you're a fan of Gilliam, Cronenberg, David Lynch, and similar directors, you should definitely try a meal at this Delicatessen.
Jeunet and Caro, with the help of their familiar repertory of actors,
a deeply disturbing and violent world where only a few shreds of
conventional social mores remain. These scraps of morality only serve to
delineate more clearly the overall decline and collapse of their dystopia.
We see a butcher's shop; the proprietor, played by Jean-Claude Dreyfus, is
evil almost to the point of caricature. He only manages to survive by
killing his lodgers when they get behind with the rent and selling them as
meat. However, the situation is given an added twist when we learn that all
the lodgers are aware of this; a woman who is sold a joint of mother sheds
couple of stifled tears and mutters she would have liked to have said
goodbye. Similarly, the butcher is most apologetic when he accidentally
chops off the foot of one of his clients who has paid his rent in full.
Into this hellish world is placed someone with his moral values relatively intact. In this case, it is a circus performer played by the marvellously rubber-faced Dominique Pinon. A less engaging actor might have made this character seem two-dimensional, as he appears to have no faults whatsoever (except a set of over-mobile lips). He enthrals the lodgers' children with his games, is immensely chivalrous to the butcher's daughter and plays the musical saw. Finally, an old edition of his act is broadcast on the flickering black-and-white television, and even the most bloodthirsty lodgers are amazed and delighted. The butcher's jealousy is roused; Good and Innocence is forced to fight Evil and Hatred.
As such, the plot is relatively straightforward. It is the sheer surrealistic imagination that Jeunet and Caro bring to their films that prevent them being unremittingly bleak or simple morality tales. They display a brilliant sense of musical timing- the whole building frequently becomes an orchestra of creaking bed-springs, croaking frogs, and crackling radios; above all this soars a love-duet of a cello and a musical saw. The faded `look' of the film complements this. With the exception of a single television remote control, nothing here would be out of place in in a exhibition of 40s and 50s design. In `The City of Lost Children' the exuberance of the design threatens to swamp the slender storyline on occasions; here, the more `grown-up' themes and less fantastic design go hand in hand.
(A word of warning about the video release- the subtitles appear to have been written be a couple of Frenchmen who really ought to have concentrated harder in their English classes at school. Apart from that, I wholeheartedly recommend this joyously grotesque film.)
Melding the perfect mixture of the visual grace of a silent film with a
modern soundscape and bearing a twenty-first century post-apocalyptic
sardonic sense of humor, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro's
"Delicatessen" becomes one of the finest contemporary films.
This pitch black comedy delves into cannibalism and oddball romance in the same breath with equal gusto and therefore feels horrific, humorous, and haunting all at once. Every frame is a wonder of detail and originality that reinvigorates even the most jaded and long-time film viewer with the sense of rediscovering the art form. This is film-making in the highest regard worthy of praise, awe, and multiple viewings.
This is a superb film. The look and design of the sets is unique and the narrative is certainly original!! I would place this film along with others like Being John Malkovich as it really did make me sit up and take notice. There are some truly great set pieces in the film particularly when the whole house starts to get into the same rhythm as the love makers on the top floor ( ripped off by an American Beer company I note in an advert ) and the botched suicide attempt too - hey I said it is darkly amusing!! I would say that there is not a weak performance amongst the cast in this evocative tale of futuristic cannibalism!! Basically, trying to describe this film makes it sound too bizarre but I highly recommend it to anyone who likes originality and their humour on the edge of darkness.
If you think the cannibal movie subgenre has been milked dry... think
again! This one will have you from the opening credits. It's set in a
crumbling apartment building in 21st century, post-apocalyptic Paris
where food is at a minimum, grains are used as money and the butcher
downstairs runs a black-market deli providing clientel with what seems
to be the only meat product available, and it ain't chicken.
Dominique Pinon is an ex-circus clown who answers a personal ad doing odd jobs there and encounters assorted weirdos while being targeted as the main course. There's a noncomformist who eats snails and frogs, a band of grimy cave-dwelling looters, an unhinged woman whose botched suicide attempts are comic highlights and an amazing musical sequence featuring a cello, creaky bed springs, machinery, drills and other noises combining to create a symphony of sounds.
The oppressive atmosphere and murky brown color schemes could have easily turned this into a dreary disaster, but the directors keep it offbeat, surprising and clever throughout, and don't miss their chance to throw in some inventive black comedy.
Clever ideas and good notion of filmmaking are at the core of this movie, whose storyline is the smallest asset. But you won't really care when you see it, because even though the story isn't really elaborate, what you have here is one of the most original movies you'll ever get your eyes on. The setting is perfect, with no historic or geographic references, only an estranged building, which doesn't have a single straight normal tenant. The result is a magnificent work of actors, cinematography and set dressing, that makes the most of visual resources for a movie. The directors Jeunet & Caro show their true potential in this movie that will keep you glued with its naive-like comedy style, and its unique set of characters, which could generate a separate movie about each and every one of them. Magnificent, and truly original.
Jeunet & Caro have created a masterpiece. While certainly
film will not be everyone's cup of tea, I cannot recall
I know seeing it and not being delighted. No other movie
seen so far could top this one for its combination of wittiness,
dark humor, love for detail and collection of regular people
holding a mirror up to each and everyone of us, showing us
strange we really are.
Indeed this movie will not be constrained by a classification as romance, comedy or science fiction or horror. It is much more than the sum of these - it is a work of art and the painstaking work and love for detail which Jeunet & Caro have put into it show everywhere you look.
This movie is definitely off-beat and I definitely love it!
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