What’s an out of work clown to do? Louison (played by Dominique Pinon) didn’t lose his job due to a lack of charm, he has that in abundance. Unfortunately his life took an unexpected turn with the death of his performing partner. The truth to be told, his partner didn’t simply die, he was eaten by an irritable audience. A little more truth to be told, his partner was a chimpanzee. This of course begs the question: who eats a
monkey ape? In a post-apocalyptic world with very little food strange things happen and even stranger things are about to.
This is the dark and funny world of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen. The film tells the story of an unassuming little boarding house and the interweaving lives of its occupants. The landlord is a ruthless butcher who holds his tenants in a state of perpetual fear and hunger. In a future with no livestock, he always seems to have meat on the menu. The only one immune to his tyranny is his naive and innocent daughter Julie (played by Marie-Laure Dougnac). Louison is hired as the maintenance man for the building and slowly falls for Julie to the chagrin of her father. Along the way we are introduced to the other tenants in the building, among others they include: a lonely wife who’s unsuccessful suicide attempts become more and more elaborate, the two sheep sound box manufacturers, the butcher’s girlfriend and a man who has a no-small thing for snails.
From a technical stand point Delicatessen is an artistic tour de force that sometimes suffers under its own weight. The visual sequences are stunning, clever and amusing; many working as well choreographed jokes. The opening credits are a feast for the eye. The soundtrack is a haunting mix of odd sound effects and quirky little instrumentals with a borderline carnival feeling to them. The film itself is shot with a sun-baked orange filter that gives everything a sweaty hot glow. On the downside, with all its panache and ingenuity Delicatessen can feel like a series of vignettes strung together rather than a cohesive film. To be fair, this was the first feature film the two directors had collaborated on. The film was released in 1991. They later went on to do The City of Lost Children and the critically embraced Amelie.
By the time they made Amelie ten years later, the film-makers had figured out how to incorporate their unique visual sequences into the story-line consequently adding to the narrative rather than distracting from it. Where Amelie is light, Delicatessen is dark . Both are funny, poignant and well crafted. If Moonrise Kingdom has wet your appetite for quirky little films with french soundtracks, then save room for these two rich morsels.