Release Date: April 3rd, 1992 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet Actors: Dominique Pinon, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Karin Viard, Ticky Holgado, Anne-Marie Pisani, Silvie Laguna
ne of the most original surrealist comedies ever made, “Delicatessen” is an inspired exercise in oddball characterizations and hysterically creative musical juxtapositions. Considering the mild science-fiction premise, the quirky editing of wild visuals with Carlos D’Alessio’s upbeat soundtrack is entirely unexpected. Funny, thrilling, and incredibly strange, this bleak vision of a cannibalistic future is one of the most daringly unique masterpieces ever to grace the big screen.
In a postapocalyptic world where nothing grows on the barren earth, grain is used as currency and desperate people resort to cannibalism to survive. It’s in this unforgiving environment that plucky, unlucky Louison (Dominique Pinon) answers an ad to work as a handyman for a meat vendor. Unbeknownst to Louison, the butcher (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) has hatched a plan to turn the new worker into the next choice cut for the starving tenants in his dilapidated building. But the incoming laborer is not without skills, charm, and a hint of wherewithal; though blind to the community’s horrifying scheming, Louison quickly falls in love with bespectacled cellist Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac), the painfully shy daughter of the domineering meatman, and plots his own survivalist stratagem.
Meanwhile, in a comparatively bizarre subplot, an underground vegetarian movement known as Troglodism becomes the source of a rescue attempt, as Julie hires the not-so-stealthy mercenaries to protect Louison from a dastardly demise. The reluctant, man-eating delicatessen patronizers are caught up in their own misadventures as well, with many simply striving to get by with little food and few amenities. Others conspire to trick the elderly and the weak-minded into become fodder for the butcher’s hungry cleavers.
The future is dreary but effectively crafted, revealing only faraway exterior shots of a murky, dust-covered town. The buildings are falling apart and the sun barely peeks through the thick, brownish clouds. Everything is cloaked in filth, moisture, and grime, with an overpowering hue of mahogany drowning out all possible vibrancy. Though the locations are intriguing, the character designs and their visual styling are the components that truly stand out. Makeup, costuming, and specific idiosyncrasies are bestowed on every role, with the casting choices clearly exploiting peculiar, cartoonishly-dimensioned actors at every turn. Insanely intrusive close-ups and distorting viewpoints frequent cinematographer Darius Khondji’s carefully framed shots, adding extra exaggeration to facial expressions and mannerisms through such extreme camera angles.
Thriving on eccentricity, the film also utilizes an artistic entwining of music and sound effects, tinged with a spectacularly compelling atmosphere of unease. Louison engages in several moments of utter rhythmic and comic delight, such as repairing a bed and a light fixture as a multitude of other events – including sex on a squeaky cot, the beating of a dusty rug, and holes being drilled into toy cylinders – all simultaneously take place. Quick cuts accentuate perfect cadence and syncopated melodies, patterned out as wittily as a Three Stooges routine. The entire production is complementarily inventive, weaving remarkable visuals with the bleakest of social satires. A picture that must be seen to fully absorb its brilliance, “Delicatessen” marks an early collaboration between the renowned moviemaking team of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, before Jeunet broke away to direct “Alien: Resurrection,” “Amelie,” and “A Very Long Engagement.”
– Mike Massie