Starring: Dominique Pinon, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Jean-Claude Dreyfus
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro
Abstract filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Amelie”) don’t leave much to the imagination, a bizarre strategy considering they must rely on their audience to keep an open mind about such madcap ideas as a Jabberwocky and a City of Lost Children. And yet despite the sheer eccentricity of either man’s resume, there couldn’t be two directors more alike. Perhaps that’s why Gilliam (who had just completed his masterpiece, “Brazil,” only a few years prior) helped to endorse Jeunet’s “Delicatessen” when it was originally released in 1991. In fact, the two films are so similar in both their unique visions of the future and in visual style that it’s surprising we haven’t seen them discussed together in greater detail before.
Unlike the slightly more utopianesque future of “Brazil,” Jeunet’s film takes place in a post-apocalyptic France where the remaining survivors have taken shelter in a rundown apartment complex. Managed by a daunting landlord named Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), who also serves as the butcher at the local delicatessen in the building, the tenants must rely on him for refuge, as well as the one thing essential to living: food. More specifically, meat, and in a time where corn is considered the highest form of currency, and a nice cut of Grade A livestock simply doesn’t exist, there’s only one other thing to serve: actual human flesh. And since the preconceived notion against cannibalism has long since been forgotten by this society, there’s only one thing keeping the tenants from tearing each other apart: Clapet’s failsafe plan to hire a handyman for the sole purpose or cutting him up and serving him to his guests. The next lucky contestant to land the job is Louison (Dominique Pinon), but when the butcher’s daughter (Marie-Laure Dougnac) falls for him, she does whatever it takes to see that he escapes.
The movie, if at all possible, gets stranger from here, including the introduction of several oddball tenants (my personal favorite being the woman who tries to commit suicide in one of the most darkly comedic scenes in film history), as well as the emergence of the Troglodists, an underground movement of vegetarians planning to overthrow the government. It’s all strangely reminiscent of Gilliam’s “Brazil,” and in keeping with the comparisons, Jeunet’s film experiences the same problems with pacing in the middle. The story begins to drag out much longer then it probably should, and while this would usually be a clear sign of bad filmmaking, the beginning and ending are too far too enjoyable to disregard. Still, while fans of the award-winning “Amelie” may not discover the same charming storytelling in the director’s feature length debut, “Delicatessen” is a title certainly worthy of its cult status.
Finally hitting DVD in the North American market, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's cult classic doesn't offer much in the way of special features, but there are a few things of interest here, including a making-of featurette (Fine Cooked Meats: A Nod to Delicatessen), archive footage of rehearsals and deleted scenes, and a feature commentary with the director. Unfortunately, all of these must be viewed with English subtitles unless, of course, you know French. It's still nice to see "Delicatessen" finally made available on DVD, and that should be more than enough for fans of the film.