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Delicatessen (1991)

August 13th, 2007 by Maxim · No Comments · 5,686 Views


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DelicatessenThis movie is directed by Jean-Pierre Jeonet, same guy who directed “Le Fabuleux destin d’Amelie Poulain” (aka “Amelie” in US release), which was so big in Europe and which I love so much. So I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Netflix had added Delicatessen to my “Recommended Movies” list. Apart from director, these movies share a lot of the actors too. Mostly same style and photography, but a completely different movie.

From the first frame, we see a completely unreal world, something of a Stephen King or an aftermath of some sort of a disaster: we see a house that looks like a skeleton of a house – after a bombing or an earthquake. Yet it’s full of inhabitants who live their normal lives there. Very strange. It gets stranger when we see a guy trying to get out of the house by hiding in the garbage, but he is discovered by the butcher living on the first floor of the house, and, apparently, killed. But this movie is nothing of a horror movie. It’s a very strange satire: a French dark comedy at its best. But it’s more then that: it’s the latest example of the French New Wave style (Le Nouvelle Vague) – a movement whose impact on the movies may have been more profound then that of surrealism and cubism on painting. It was first developed in the 50s and 60s, and it still survives in the modern movies, and Delicatessenis one of the best examples of that. Artists, both French and American, such as Hitchcock, Ford, Howard Hawks, Robert Bresson, Jean Vigo, Renoir are a good example of people who followed the philosophy of the New Wave: what camera sees is what’s real; editing of movies is rejected; the personal vision and touch of the artist is embraced. I’d like to recommend other movies in that style that I’ve seen from French master Louis Malle are drammas Au Revoir les enfants and Atlantic City. A great modern American example of this style: Being John Malkovich.

But back to Delicatessen. The synopsis of the movie from the white sleeve of the DVD only adds to confusion. Whoever wrote it had no understanding of this movie whatsoever. Here’s what Netflix says about the movie:

Gentle clown Louison (Dominique Pinon – Amelie, Alien 4) moves into an apartment building with a deli on the ground floor and falls for the butcher’s daughter, Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac). It’s soon discovered that Julie’s father (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) is actually butchering people (like Sweeney Todd) and selling the meat to tenants. At a crossroads, Julie must decide whether to remain loyal to her father or expose him to save Louison from becoming the next entree.

I was disappointed by the complete lack of understanding and short-sightedness of this synopsis. It’s a much more complex film on so many levels.

Many reviewers have speculated that the movie is a futuristic view of the post-apocalyptic world, but it’s anything but that. To me, the ruins of the house and dark gloomy skies reminded of the last few seconds of “From dusk to dawn” – a house on the edge of Hell – a sort of a limbo or a purgatory. Nothing futuristic: all fashion and accessories to smallest detail are from mid-50s: the cars, the clothes, the black-and-white TVs. Nothing apocalyptic either: there is electricity, water, TV broadcasts, mail is being delivered. Everybody is employed, everyone has a hobby. The odd thing about this world is that there’s such a big shortage of food that money have no value, and people treat food as currency. Even every rat had been eaten. Most of the society not resorted to cannibalism (”dog it dog, rat it rat”). One of the residents had to pay the rent to the butcher – with his leg. A non-conformist is growing his own food in a semi-flooded basement – frogs and snails (French delicacies). The other side of the society, an underground rebellion called Troglodytes (a rather comical bunch) of vegetarians is trying to sabotage the flesh-eaters. Everyone is rather disgusting and at the same time comical in this movie – except the clown and two young boys. Especially funny were one of the resident’s botched suicide attempts. The movie starts with a symphony/cacophony of rather harmonious sounds and rhythms of butcher sharpening his knifes, the squeaking of the springs on the bed, the cello practice and the clown repainting his ceiling - in different rooms on different floors. But the chaos keeps building up throughout the movie, until the flood – in the end of the movie there’s an allegory for a flood that flushes all the filth in the house down the stairs, and with the death of the butcher we see signs of normalcy in that world: the sky turns blue and kids come up on the roof of the house to listen to the clown and butcher’s daughter play cello and a musical saw.

My favorite quote belongs to Louison: “Nobody is entirely evil: it’s that circumstances that make them evil, or they don’t know they are doing evil”.

Most of the movie is in brown and gold colors. The props of the house ruins and the underground are amazing. Very gripping movie – unlike anything I’ve ever seen. A masterpiece.

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Rated 5/5 on Aug 13 2007
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Tags: Comedy · Cult Films · DVD · Dark comedy · Film Noir · Foreign · France · Movies

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