If you liked Jeunet’s wonderfully quirky and stylised Amélie, you will almost certainly like his earlier collaborations with Caro, especially the fresh, zany, inventive, funny and charming Delicatessen. This is an affectionate but inky black comedy, much more like a comic book strip or sketch show than conventional movie, but one you could not help but enjoy – if you enjoy slapstick humour and can come to terms with the notion that this is a post-apolcalyptic cannibalistic France in which the search for food means people are often on the menu.
Imagine an ageing block of flats, complete with communication pipes, owned by the butcher who runs the ground floor shop. The residents are grumbling for meat, so he employs and then butchers handymen, despite the objections of his daughter, Julie – lovely but blind as a bat (cue hilarious tea date scene.)
This time it is naive unemployed clown Louison, whose best friend and fellow performer Livingstone, a chimp, has been eaten. His relationship with Julie slowly blossoms, notably when they duet on cello and musical saw, but when she gets wind that the occupants want him to be trapped and eaten she ventures into the sewers to enlist help from the vegetarian underground resistance movement, the Troglodistes, who prove not only ineffective but utterly incompetent. But together, Julie and Louison fight off the evil butcher and his cohorts in a scene involving a great deal of water and a multi-bladed knife known as “the Australian.”
That description does not do the movie, nor its joyfully innovative approach to cinema justice. The flats are populated by a wonderful cast of eccentric characters and the movie embraces stories from each of their lives as they wait for a taste of Louison. There is the frog man, whose apartment is flooded to grow edible snails and frogs; the paranoid and delusional Aurore, whose every suicide attempt, spurred on by spooky voices, ends in miserable failure; the guys whose business is to can sheep bleats; the family with the ageing granny; a gun-toting postman; and the butcher’s mistress, whose “squeaky bedsprings” scene with Louison is surely among the funniest ever filmed.
Perhaps the most iconic picture from the movie is where Julie stumbles into Louison’s room to find his head on a platter, apparently with a meat cleaver parting the scalp. This is only his latest act, thankfully! In fact, you get as many memorable moments in Delicatessen as you would in half a dozen other movies.
Jenuet and Caro, joint directors, clearly deserve a great deal of credit for the outcome, thanks to a combination of cunning script, artful presentation, excellent use of camera angles, superb editing and nice use of sound and music too. Every member of the Jenuet repertory company also play their parts to perfection – and you will recognise Dominique Pinon, Rufus, Ticky Holgado, not to mention the excellent talents of Jean-Claude Dreyfus and Marie-Laure Dougnac, among many more.
Wherever you look, this is a wonderful movie to be enjoyed many times over. Not the greatest ever, but influential and creative in the opposite direction to so much formulaic dross coming from Hollywood (and with subtitles, opponents of which may be won round by excellent movies such as Delicatessen and Amélie.)