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Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Comedy Drama (France)
Starring: Dominique Pinon (Amélie • Alien: Resurrection), Marie-Laure Dougnac
Directed By: Marc Caro (La cité des enfants perdus), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (A Very Long Engagement • Amélie)
Overview: When a man takes a job as a handyman at a tenement building, he doesn’t realize that most of the tenants expect him on the butcher's menu.
Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet are, for me at least, best known for their quirky feel-good films. Much of Jeunet's Amélie, another once-a-1001 lister (#984), feels like Delicatessen. In Delicatessen, we have little character vignettes that touch on everyone in the building rather than the simple focus on the big typical three antagonist/protagonist/love interest. In Amélie, we also see little snippets of the lives of all the people she interacts with. In Delicatessen however, rather than seeing how the young Amélie helps the lives of others, we more often than not see how our unsuspecting handyman, Louison, escapes the clutches of the butcher’s block.
We open in a bombed out village. A man is taking cover and hiding in a trashcan, obviously running from something or someone. The butcher and owner of the building sharpens his knives and begins stalking. The garbage truck comes and takes everything away… everything but the one can protecting our escaping hopeful. The can is opened by our sneering butcher as he brings a knife down onto the poor victim. The next day, the delicatessen is stocked up and the tenants are happily buying their meat. Shortly thereafter, a small thin man arrives by taxi to fill the vacant position of handyman, under the employ of building owner and butcher. From this comes the adventure: as Louison works and befriends tenants, the butcher works to feed them by claiming Louison's haunches. Delicatessen is fun but luckily not entirely predictable.
With a love interest who happens to be the butcher's daughter, an underground bevy of frog-men (no not because they're French) revolutionaries for liberation, and a handyman who's a talented clown, what could easily be a Thriller becomes comedic, though still rooted in enough serious drama to make one wonder if and how our characters will fare. Delicatessen is romantic while being realistic enough to stay away from the screwball. It's serious while being wild enough to make you laugh unexpectedly at the actions and dialogue of our characters. And while bleak of décor, the glorious dark brown colour palate and set design make Delicatessen a visual spectacle. Memorable scenes include Louison and a tenant fixing the squeaky bed in choreographed synchronicity, the basement tenant whose food supply is the snails and frogs in his apartment and the first date Louison has with the butcher’s daughter, who takes off her much-needed glasses to impress him.
Performance: 8 Cinematography: 9 Script: 7 Plot: 8 Mood: 9
Overall Rating: 82% (Deli-cious!)
Another fine filmic touch that has forever inspired me is the opening credits of Delicatessen, used again by the Caro/Jeunet's collaboration of La cité des enfants perdus. In both films they set up the credits like a diorama rather than using the typical titling, and it’s a wonderful way to begin an audience’s immersion into the worlds these directors created.