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DELICATESSEN(directors: Marc Caro/Jean-Pierre Jeunet; screenwriters: Gilles Adrien/Marc Caro; cinematographer: Darius Khondji; editor: Herve Schneid; cast: Dominique Pinon (Louison), Marie-Laure Dougnac (Julie Clapet), Jean-Claude Dreyfus (Clapet-The Butcher), Karin Viard (Mademoiselle Plusse), Ticky Holgado (Marcel Tapioca), Anne-Marie Pisani (Madame Tapioca), Jacques Mathou (Roger), Rufus (Robert Kube), Howard Vernon (Frog Man), Edith Ker (Granny), Boban Janevski (Young Rascal), Mikael Todde (Young Rascal), Chick Ortega (Postman), Silvie Laguna (Aurore Interligator), Howard Vernon (Frog Man); Runtime: 96; Miramax /Constellation /UGC /Hatchette Premiere; 1991-France)
“Delicatessen could have some appeal to the cult film crowd who like their meat sliced thin…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A black comedy set in the near future in a boarding house run by a depraved butcher. The comedy is played more in comic strip style for entertainment value than for deeper satire, as it features mostly zany sophomoric sight gags and relies heavily on special effects.

The world has fallen on hard times and there are food shortages, which means no meat; so the butcher serves up meat from human flesh to customers who pay with grain, almost as valued a commodity as the meat. The big joke is in the film’s cannibalism, an idea that wears thin mighty fast. The characters are too absurd and sketched too thinly for us to care about them or for their story.

This tasteless postapocalyptic French comedy is a first feature for the co-directors Marc Caro/Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

An ex-circus clown named Louison (Dominique Pinon), the film’s too-good-to-be-true hero, answers an ad for work as a handyman for Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) and the butcher/landlord offers him room and board in his house. The butcher’s clumsy and near-sighted daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) falls in love with the skinny, weird looking clown and the two make some music together, with her playing the cello and him a saw. They are the innocents, surrounded by a boarding house of misfits suffering from fear and watched over by her overbearing father. Her father has lured into his tenement the clown as he has his past innocent victims, so that he can put his cleaver to him and then sell him as meat. He intends to do that as soon as the clown fixes up the tenement.

The entire film takes place in the shabby tenement, and the tenants are an odd lot of bizarre malcontents who do not trust each other. There are two youngsters (Boban Janevski & Mikael Todde) who do any kind of mischief they can. A frog man (Howard Vernon) who lives with water on the floor so he can raise his frogs and snails for a food source. Two brothers (Mathou & Kube) who create little cow-moo novelty toys. A man (Holgado) who sells a bullshit detector to the butcher for his piece of meat. A slutty woman (Karin Viard), who lives with the butcher so she can eat meat. Then there is an aristocratic woman (Silvie Laguna) who tries numerous times to commit suicide, but is too inept to do it right.

The tenants are too afraid to come out at night because they know what the butcher is up to, so they are forced to communicate with each other through a pipe that runs through the building (in one scene they are all in musical harmony to the lovemaking of the butcher and his gal, as they keep time to their bedsprings squeaking).

There is also a sex-crazed postman (Chick Ortega), who lusts for the butcher’s daughter and carries a gun while delivering the mail.

There is also an underdeveloped subplot about a band of incompetent underground veggie fanatics, called Trogolodistes, who have been summoned to rescue the clown and steal some grain. The directors overloaded the film with too many eccentrics, as the comedy seemed forced while the surreal look of the film added no dramatic intensity.

Delicatessen could have some appeal to the cult film crowd who like their meat sliced thin, Monty Python fans, and those who liked Terry Gilliam’s Brazil — a film similar in spirit. But for me, it failed to reach my funny bone.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”