Thursday, July 7, 2011

Delicatessen (Caro. Jeunet. 1991)

"Nobody is entirely evil: it's that circumstances that make them evil, or they don't know they are doing evil."


In a post-apocalyptic world, food is such a delicacy that people are using it as currency over conventional money. A butcher and apartment tenant is selling butchered human beings to his strange residents in return for large quantities of grain. A group of grain-eating criminals, the troglodytes, live underground and try to stop the mad butcher from killing his new maintenance man. A former circus clown, the maintenance man is in love with the butcher’s daughter. She is responsible for hiring the troglodytes.

This is the utterly ridiculous plot of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s surrealist fantasy, Delicatessen. One of the most visually pleasing and stupidly original films that I have ever seen, it serves as a neat counterpart to the much more famous, Amelie (2001). This is a film that seems to have a desire to confuse, amuse and astound the audience with quirky characters and snappy dialogue. The obvious working aspects of the film would be the entertaining, but bizarre, premise and the meticulous cinematography.

Starting with the former, Delicatessen tells the story from the opening paragraph. That seems like it should be enough to make you understand its originality and absurdity, but this film takes everything to another level of insanity. Even the filler is written to be so strange that a viewer has no choice but to believe the film’s mythos. When a director is dealing with such strange subject matter, producing a believable mythos may be the hardest task to achieve. This is what Jeunet does so well.

Cinematography is what makes Delicatessen a special picture. Every moment seems to be perfectly and urgently framed to portray the exact message that was needed per scene. The settings are dark and all is eventually destroyed in the fray of the action. Though the film is extremely character driven, the plot desperately needs the sophisticated centering that directs the audience to exactly where they should be looking.

Delicatessen is a witty and unusual dark comedy that is much lighter than its subject matter would suggest. It is not one of the best films that I have seen, but I would recommend it to anyone who is trying to ease in to world cinema. Funny at times, hectic throughout the entirety and immediately memorable, Delicatessen is interesting right away. That makes it worth seeing.

Delicatessen: B

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