“Delicatessen” – Chris Luedtke

Oftentimes, after a series of awkward events, words just aren’t enough to summarize one’s feelings. Sometimes a cracked smile, a spatter of laughter, or simple silence are all the expressions and noises or lack thereof that can be used. Such is the case with the darkly amusing Delicatessen. Throughout we are exposed to characters that are sheer oddities of our dreams and expressions of the most hilarious and dark moments that both curse and rejoice in the human soul. Wherever there exists romance, there is also some cleaver-wielding maniac of a father figure trying to add you to his post-apocalyptic deli.

Delicatessen takes place after the fall of mankind. A nuclear holocaust has all but wiped out humanity, and those that have survived thrive on what little is left. A deli landlord sells the most prized possession of all: meat. However, Clapet the butcher (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) gets his meat from the humans he slaughters. While the tenants are unaware, his daughter Julie Clapet (Marie-Laure Dougnac) is onto his ruthless tactics. When ex-carnie Louison (Dominique Pinon) is hired to do odd jobs, he unfortunately finds himself at the top of Clapet’s to-slaughter list.

If you’re familiar with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s works (Amélie, A Very Long Engagement, The City of Lost Children), you know what you’re in for. Jeunet has a tendency to bring out the oddest in characters and film. While Jeunet didn’t actually write this one (it was written by Gilles Adrien), he still gives it his unique treatment. Odd but comfortable angles are used that give everything an awesome perspective (a la Amélie). Little things are given detail to give us authenticity. You’d swear at times that Jeunet just walked into the apocalypse and just set up shop for filming. The set design looks like it wants to crumble to the ground, a perfect mood for a ruined world. Everything has a glowing yellow hue that in most cases would annoy the eyes; here we see the enhancement. Details come out in a much more grotesque way; it’s very fitting and beautiful.

Delicatessen has quite a humorous story. With just a general outline, we’re immediately reminded of Sweeney Todd, but this time around the story isn’t about vengeance, nor does it have the angry edge that Sweeney does. Delicatessen makes chopping people up into deli meat fun! The film’s opening shows an a desperate escapee (Pascal Benezech) get humorously caught as he tries to pass himself off as trash and meet an unfortunate demise. What makes it so easy to stomach is how Clapet the butcher is just so damned humorous with his facial expressions. Killing is his joy and suddenly ours too. As the cleaver is raised, so are the smiles on our face. Sadistic? Yes. But once it happens, you’ll be asking for another hit.

If it’s one thing that will last throughout this film, if not the grand humor, it’s the characters. Lucky for us, Jeunet doesn’t have a problem with giving us oddball color to go along with that glowing hue. Aurore Interligator (Silvie Laguna) will stick with you long after the film is over. She’s so desperate to make her bizarre suicide attempts look like accidents. We almost want her to succeed just to see her husband George’s (Jean-François Perrier) reaction. Louison is portrayed perfectly by Pinon as a clueless sort of dimwit that has a knack for being able to do the right thing or say the right thing every time it needs to be said. His relationship with Julie feels not only necessary but fated.

Delicatessen is tons of fun for those looking for a good dark romp. I recommend it on every level, except for those hoping for some excessive violence. You won’t find any here. There are death scenes, but they feel very reserved, this being my only complaint. Clapet could have killed a few more, but instead the majority of the film is dedicated to him finding a way to kill Louison and keep his daughter. Definitely give this one a shot.

Rating: ★★★½

-Chris Luedtke

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