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a home + living guide for the post-college, pre-parenthood, quasi-adult generation

08.08.2002

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flick pick | Delicatessen 1991
Directed by: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Written by: Gilles Adrien, Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring: Dominique Pinon, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Jean-Claude Dreyfus
Language: French [with English subtitles]
Look for it at the video store under:
foreign [France]
Watch it when youíre in the mood for something: artsy-fartsy, darkly comic, fantastical, whimsical
The critic says: Ĺ/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: Ĺ/5

Plot synopsis In post-apocalyptic France, survivors buy goods and services with dried grains, and scramble for sustenance in whatever way they can. When circus clown Mr. Louison loses his longtime partner and beloved friend, the talented monkey Dr. Livingston, to hungry carnivorous thieves, he quits his act and answers the first ad for work he sees: a listing in Hard Times newspaper offering room and board in exchange for light apartment building maintenance. Little does Louison suspect what heís really being hired for when building manager Clapet Ė who also doubles as the butcher in the delicatessen downstairs Ė gives him the job and apartment. Clapet, as it turns out, has a little deal going on with the other apartment dwellers: he lures strangers into the building with the promise of work and accommodation, then butchers them, dividing up the meat amongst his fellow neighbors in exchange for valuable grains. But when Louison proves altogether more useful than his predecessors, and rather charming as well, Clapet and Co.ís cold-hearted scheme is thrown for a loop. Things get especially complicated when Clapetís much-adored daughter Julie ends up falling in love with Louison, and turns to the renegade underground vegetarian Troglodistes for aid in rescuing Louison from her butcher father.

Review Art-house foreign flicks have a terrible tendency to aim for depth, and come off merely as pretentious, so itís no small wonder that so many people equate subtitles with guaranteed snores. And when the filmís premise is as flat-out bizarre as that of Jeunet and Caroís cult classic Delicatessen, well, Iíd wager itís safe to say that a fair number of less adventurous movie-viewers would write off Delicatessen as merely another hoity-toity, snooze-inducingly boring piece of cinematic drivel masquerading as high art. This, of course, is a sad, sad thing indeed, because if thereís one thing Delicatessen isnít, itís dull. Instead, this very surrealist, wickedly black comedy is pure joy to watch from start to finish. Itís a magical mix of the sublime and the macabre, balancing itís rather dark story satirizing the depths to which human beings might sink to indulge their gourmet tastes with a rather unexpected childlike innocence that delights in finding the beauty in silly, simple things Ė blowing bubbles, making music of squeaky bedsprings, a duet between cello and handsaw. The earth may have been blown to bits, the remaining inhabitants forced to resort to cannibalism, but despite it all, thereís still music, and loveliness, and the fundamental decency of people like Louison and Julie. With its fantastic (in both senses of the word) set design and evocative, gritty look, Delicatessen is an undeniable visual wonder, a gorgeous vision of a nightmare post-war world, but its real charm rests in the fact that beneath all that darkness, thereís this irrepressible optimism that continually pushes its way to the surface.
óreviewed by Y. Sun

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