Directed by Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
French with English subtitles, 99 min.
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 ever made.
Jeunet and Caro, with the help of their familiar repertory of actors, create a deeply disturbing, post-apocalyptic and absurd world where only a few shreds of conventional social mores remain. (We never find out what happened, why we are witnessing the end of the world) 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 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. Into this hellish world is placed someone with his moral values relatively intact. In this case, it is a circus performer played by the marvelously rubber-faced Dominique Pinon. He enthralls 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.
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.