Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro
Written by: Gilles Adrien, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro
Starring: Anne-Marie Pisani, Dominique Pinon, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Karin Viard, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Ticky Holgado
Circus performer Louison responds to an ad in ‘The Hard Times’ paper looking for a light maintenance guy with bed and board included. After successfully gaining the role, he starts to work on odd jobs around the building for the owner, landlord and butcher, Clapet. What Louison doesn’t know is that the job is just a lure for fresh meat to enter the building to become the next meal for the starving residents. Will he find out their true intentions before it’s too late?
On paper, the plot of French film DELICATESSEN should be a horror show. The concept of butchering and eating unsuspecting handymen doesn’t conjure up visions of whimsy but this is exactly what’s delivered in this wonderful, off-beat black comedy from filmmaking duo, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, and writer Gilles Adrien.
The always terrific Dominique Pinon stars as former clown Louison who has found himself out of work and in desperate need of a job during the harsh war time. This handyman job could be just the golden ticket for him, but his small stature leaves prospective employer Clapet (a fantastic Jean-Claude Dreyfus) concerned about his suitability to carry out the manual tasks of the role. He needn’t have worried as Louison proves to be handy as can be, fixing squeaky springs, changing bulbs and painting ceilings throughout the building. He even manages to entertain a few of the residents with some of his tricks from his former trade. His likeable attitude catches the eye of butcher’s daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac), who’s quite smitten by the entertainer. However, with previous lodgers only lasting a week before becoming the next meal on the table, she knows the clock is ticking if she’s to save Louison from ending up in the bellies of others.
DELICATESSEN has such a wonderful, dreamlike quality to it with its optimism and eccentricity emerging, like a mushroom growing in the dark, from the dank browns and murky green tones of the bleak environment. This juxtaposition between the two worlds works so incredibly well thanks to the vision of Jeunet & Caro, with an alluring rhythm throughout the movie that plays like a piece of music. It hits the beat so well with its visual comedy, some of which can be quite dark in nature (one of the residents is keen to kill herself after being tormented by voices). However, it never feels like an horrific film despite what the residents’ intentions are. It’s a time of desperation and with the inhabitants of the building paying in whatever goods they have to trade, whether it’s corn kernels, a rat call or sexual favours, it’s hard to truly begrudge the characters and their hunger for something a bit more substantial, even if that means cannibalism.
With its playful attitude and humour, DELICATESSEN is like a delicious slice of homemade pie – familiar, comforting and wholesome to consume. Its screenplay, right down to the performances from all the cast involved, is delivered to perfection with just the right balance of seriousness and comedy for a unique piece of storytelling that I doubt could be achieved by anyone other than the team behind this.
DELICATESSEN nearly never saw light of day, but we should be thankful that it did. It’s a work of pure art that is so rich, with a design that sets it apart from the rest.
DELICATESSEN has been restored by the Studiocanal team, approved by Jeunet & Caro, to achieve cinematographer Darius Khondji’s vision of the movie, and the colour and detail look spectacular! The film also comes complete with a small selection of special features, including behind the scenes footage from the shoot, auditions, an interview with Jeunet & Caro, and an audio commentary track. However, the best of all is an almost hour-long featurette where Caro, Jeunet, Adrien and producer Claudie Ossard, along with some of the cast members, discuss the making of the film and the struggles to get it produced. It’s an incredibly insightful piece about how this quirky story almost didn’t get made and is both an interesting and inspiring watch.