Delicatessen (1991) (R)

"Delicatessen" shares a lot in common with "Underground"...or maybe that should be vice versa. Chances are, if you've heard of either film, it would be this one rather than the 1995 Palme D'Or winner and let's face it, this is probably the more digestible of the two, and I use that word with all the irony and stomach twisting nuances it implies.
This movie is unlike anything you will ever see, unless of course you watch either "Amélie" or "Underground". The point being, this little French gem is why film critics enjoy foreign cinema and its why the average audience—and sometimes myself included—finds a certain amount of "avant-garde bullshit" mixed in with the plot. This is one such movie that my foreign cinema BS detector was going off on; yet not in the usual way. The movie doesn't feature long shots and whispered musings, or the quirk of the fast-paced emotionally draining meltdown. This isn't tragic or too comedic...I guess what I'm saying is foreign cinema doesn't really have a definition and this wouldn't fit it even if it did.
"Delicatessen" is about a post-apocalyptic world, or an apartment building rather. After the world, rightfully unexplained, dried up, a group of curiously quirky individuals eke out an existence above a butcher's shop in the middle of no where. They trade corn for meat and survive just by the skin of their friend's teeth. You see, the meat that they're eating isn't's human.
The butcher (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) makes a habit of dispatching a person every so often and then the tenets will eat off of that for a few weeks. It's not exactly pretty; but the film makes an effort to not really allow the viewer to ponder just how gruesome it really is.
Change arrives when Louison (Dominique Pinon) shows up looking for a job. The butcher gives him a few tasks to do around the building and we get the feeling that this is just a lamb being fattened up until it's slaughtered.
What ensues is perhaps the moment that most viewers will find hard to choke down: the introduction of the other members. These other people are each so individualized and all of them have such bizarre quirks that it's almost impossible to not laugh at the movie. There's a woman who hears voices and is trying desperately to commit suicide, yet always fails at it. There are two presumed brothers that are making noise makers, and then there's an elderly man who lives in a room that is so damp that it allows him to house frogs and snails, which he then eats.
But our main story include Louison and the butcher's daughter, Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac). This is already a recipe for disaster as the two fall slowly in love and the butcher tries to put his hooks into Louison for good eats. Yes, "Delicatessen" is just about as wacky and as insanely mad as you could possible imagine.
It is the work of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who would go on to direct "Amélie", and what is most impressive about it its visual style. The movie looks superb and the camera tricks are always enjoyable.
The movie ramps up energy until it reaches a boiling point and then it crashes down in one of the most enjoyable third acts in recent memory. This would be Tarantino directing an indie film in France, it has that certain humor and violent tendency that we would expect from Quentin.
"Delicatessen" is a steampunk action drama. The movie is less so interested in the setting it occurs and much more in how its characters react to it, which I really appreciate because it feels more genuine that way.
Dreyfus is a load of fun to watch as the obsessed butcher and Pinon and Dougnac make a cute if bizarre couple. The film does take a long time to get used to and some scenes just feel too weird for their own good, like a musical saw and cello performance that is repeated.
Still, if we're giving points for originality, which we are, "Delicatessen" is way high on the list of films to see. And if you dig this, then watch "Underground" because it deserves a viewing too.

Score: ★★★½

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