Delicatessen (1991) – Film Review
Directors: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cast: Marie-Laure Dougnac, Dominique Pinon, Pascal Benezech
By Sarah Morgan
Fancy getting your teeth into a tasty French morsel that’s about as far removed from the Hollywood mainstream as you can get?
Well, look no further than Delicatessen, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s dystopian black comedy romance from 1991. It may be more than 30 years old, but it looks as fresh as a daisy. And that’s not just down to its crisp new look on Blu-ray. It’s because of its timeless setting.
One imagines the story takes place in an alternative universe that looks a little like the 1950s. It’s certainly a period after a catastrophe has occurred. Nothing grows any more, items are bought and sold with corn, lentils, or some other kind of food staple, and meat is in very short supply.
However, one butcher, Clapet, who owns the titular shop and the apartments above it, has found a way of supplying his tenants with flesh – by killing the handymen he employs to supposedly keep the crumbling building in some sort of shape. I do wonder if The League of Gentlemen got the idea for their cannibalistic butcher from the film.
“Oddly delightful and charming”
In other hands, the storyline could have been a horror movie. But instead, thanks to Jeunet and Caro’s incredible visual style and the whimsy included in the screenplay by their co-writer, Gilles Adrien, it’s all oddly delightful and charming.
Things begin to change for the tenants when Clapet offers the handyman’s position to Louison, a former circus clown who’s in desperate need of employment following the death of his stage partner, the chimpanzee Livingston.
Louison wins over some of the residents, including Clapet’s daughter Julie, with his tricks and skills. And, as they begin to fall in love, Julie realises she must act fast to save him from her father’s cleaver. In desperation, she calls on the local underground vegetarian rebels, known as the Trogliodistes, to save him. Chaos, as the saying goes, then ensues.
Delicatessen was the directorial duo’s debut film, and it took 10 years to get off the ground. It’s a remarkable achievement, full of quirky details and memorable performances. Not least from Dominique Pinon as Louison; you may also recognise him from Jeunet and Caro’s follow-up film, The City of Lost Children.
There are moments that are reminiscent of Jeunet’s later solo effort Amélie too. Although Delicatessen is set in a much darker, murkier world.
A modern masterpiece, one imagines people will still be admiring the film in another 30, 60 or 90 years. There’s also an informative ‘making of’ documentary on the disc, as well as a revealing interview with the directors that should not be missed.
● Audio commentary with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet
● Making of: Fine Cooked Pork Meats
● Main Course Pieces
● Jean-Pierre Jeunet Archive
● Interview with Jeunet and Caro
Delicatessen is released on Blu-ray by Studiocanal