Delicatessen – Film Review

A delightfully zany French movie about love, dystopia… and cannibalism. It’s directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who later made Amélie, so I kinda knew what to expect – beautifully textured and whimsical visuals, quirky and imaginative little details, eccentric characters – but even so this movie is quite out there.

It’s set in some sort of post-apocalyptic future where money is obsolete and food is scarce, and centres on the apartment block with a butcher shop on the ground floor, whose owner, also the landlord, is always in need of a new superintendent. That’s because every new applicant inevitably gets chopped up and served to the other tenants, who are on to the scheme and start complaining when the meat supply stops. The latest would-be-victim is Louison, a former clown, who catches the eye of Julie, the butcher’s daughter. Determined to save him, she turns for help to the bunch of underground vegetarian freedom fighters called the Troglodytes.

This description sounds quite grisly and silly, but Delicatessen does a marvellous job juggling the elements of horror, romance and humour in a macabre yet playful fashion, and it’s a delicious, perverse little morsel. It gets episodic at times, with the various vignettes about the colourful tenants of the building. They include an old man who lives in a flooded basement apartment full of frogs and snails, which constitute his daily diet, and a high-strung matron who keeps hearing mysterious voices telling her to do away with herself, which she attempts to do with increasingly elaborate means. There’s a nice unpredictability to it all because you never know what bizarre subplot the movie is going to move on next.

The central romance is sweet and charming; there’s a hilarious sequence where Julie, wishing to make a better impression on Louison without her glasses, takes them off for their tea party, with disastrous results. I haven’t watched a European film in a while, and it’s funny that, once I realised that there would be a romance, my first thought was, there’s no way this guy would be playing a romantic lead in an American movie.

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