26 November 2019

Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro's Delicatessen (1991)

How exactly do you begin to describe this first feature? The headline of an edition of the weekly L'Express seemed to see it as a French Monty Python, and then quite rightly set the issue straight by saying that the film is like nothing ever seen: agreed, as to compare it with Monty Python would be a grave insult to this highly inventive movie. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where transactions are by barter (such as in chick peas), the subdued colours of brown and dark yellow predominate and reflect on the dismal, sordid and terrifying world depicted (which is incidentally at the same time highly amusing). Almost everything seems to come from a former age. Louison (Dominique Pinon), a former circus clown whose partner was a chimpanzee, has applied for a job with butcher Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), who in fact deals in human flesh and finds Louison to be meagre fare.

Clapet's daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) falls for him, and there is a scene in which she invites him for tea, and although she bungles everything by not wearing her glasses Lousison isn't put out in his equal enthusiasm for her. But the tenants of the building in general are frightened of receiving the butcher's knife, and the atmosphere is tense.

The tenants are a bizarre assortment of characters: the brothers who make boxes which when turned make a sound like a cow (boîtes à meuh); the man who, in his flat-cum-swamp, raises frogs and snails; the woman who devises extremely elaborate (but unsuccessful) means of killing herself, etc. We mustn't forget, of course, the men that the worried Julie gets into contact with: 'les troglodistes', who are vegetarians plotting rebellion in the sewers.

Needless to say, the finale of Delicatessen is an apocalypse in itself, with the lovers Louison and Julie playing musical saw and cello on the roof of the building. A French cinema classic surely more inventive than Amélie Poulain?

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