You wouldn’t normally associate films where cannibalism is the central focus to be funny. But Delicatessen is. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, it was first released in 1991 and promptly won some Cesars among some other things.

The setting is a strange post apocalyptic random French locale, where there’s hardly any food and people trade in legumes. One distinct group of survivors forms the main subject. They live in an apartment block and look pretty normal for the most part. As the film progresses, we learn more and more about each one’s idiosyncrasies. The leader of the apartment is the butcher, who’s a fatass that commands respect because he sets a system in place that keeps everyone in the building alive. This system is basically attracting newcomers on the pretence of employment, only for the butcher to find some way to murder them and sell the meat off to the tenants.

The main plot revolves around the latest arrival, a former clown who is naive but cheerful. He starts out as the handyman for the place but begins to form a romance with the butcher’s daughter. We also learn about all these other characters. Like a rich man whose wife keeps trying to kill herself because she thinks she’s crazy. Apparently she’s hearing voices, which come from downstairs, which is where two guys make these things that make the sound of sheep. There’s also an old guy who lives in a room that’s perpetually flooded and filled with frogs and snails and a chunky but really hot mistress of the butcher.

One famous scene has the butcher making love to his mistress on a squeaky bed and everyone else in the apartment doing stuff, with the rhythmic sounds coming together, figuratively and literally. They start slow but get progressively more into each task, (be it cello playing, painting the ceiling, pumping a tire or getting hot and heavy) increasing in gusto until the butcher climaxes and everyone else has a mishap. In fact, a lot of the film feels like a musical. It’s almost like the cutscene in Band of Outsiders where they just get up and dance in the cafe, only here, it’s a cello accompanying a “musical saw” like what you see below.

delicatessen

I loved how there’s a lot of interesting details to the film, the saturated orangey brown filter the majority of the film uses grants it a very unique look. The mise en scene is filled with gritty, drippy, old timey, crusty, dusty stuff that lends a definite richness to the visuals which gets a contrast with the 50s France decor in the interiors and clothes. Then there’s the idea of survival in the film and how we try to keep up appearances. The people in the apartment all try to live normal lives, behaving mostly normal except when they get hungry and reveal their more savage natures. Contrasting this is another group living outside the apartment, the Troglodistes. These guys are vegetarians and live underground in a pseudo militaristic manner. They dress like each other, in wetsuits with hardhats and lamps, rubber boots and stuff. It’s pretty awesomely hilarious. They seem to accept that they need to adapt to survive rather than bluff themselves like the surface dwellers seem to. Whilst the premise of the imaginary world the film presents may not make complete sense, it’s a superb setting for the weirdo characters. We get to see these really strange people in their natural habitat, trying to stave off starvation and living on as it were.

So many scenes were absolutely memorable but the one below really takes the cake for me. The visuals and the comic timing is superb and whilst some bits felt like cramming weirdness to justify entertainment, it was interesting nonetheless. Overall, Delicatessen has to be one fine film, a must watch.

delicatessen 2

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