May 17, 2006
Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, ,
Starring: Pascal Benezech, Dominique Pinon, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Karin Viard, Ticky Holgado, Anne-Marie Pisani, Boban Janevski, Mikael Todde, Edith Ker, Rufus, Jacques Mathou, Howard Vernon, Chick Ortega, Silvie Laguna, ,
Delicatessen (1991) marked the impressive feature film debut of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, two mad geniuses from France who would sadly make only one other film together (the Terry Gilliam-esque City of Lost Children) before going their separate ways. Delicatessen displayed an inventiveness in their sometimes surreal imagery but also with quirky, endearing characters they so expertly crafted. Jeunet and Caro presented a rich, atmospheric world that was the stuff of dreams… or nightmares depending on who you talk to.
We are introduced to a dark, post-apocalyptic world where meat is scarce and so people resort to cannibalism to get their fix. It’s a tough world where even the postman carries a gun to protect himself. Everybody is always hungry and it is the desire for meat that drives people to do desperate things. A young man by the name of Louison (Pinon) answers an ad for a maintenance position in an apartment building unaware that his predecessors have all met their untimely end at the hands of the building’s owner, a butcher (Dreyfus). Louison is an ex-clown who uses his talents to entertain the kids in his building by creating large soap bubbles that float through the air. He also catches the eye of the owner’s daughter, Julie (Dougnac).
During the course of a day, Louison crosses paths with Julie and they become smitten with each other much to the chagrin of her nasty, overprotective father. Julie, with her mousy qualities, a clumsy, klutzy way about her that is endearing and an adorable charm, is clearly the prototype for the character of Amelie, the star of Jeunet’s most popular film to date. The sweet romance between Julie and Louison is the glimmer of hope in this harsh, foreboding world. They end up bonding over their love of music, performing together – her with the cello and him with a musical saw. It certainly isn’t your typical romance and that is part of the film’s charm. It presents such an unusual, offbeat world with a dark sense of humour.
Director of photography Darius Khondji shoots the entire film through a sepia tone filter, enshrouding the outside world in a thick fog that creates an ominous mood and gives Delicatessen the look of an old photograph (a look that Jeunet would adopt again with A Very Long Engagement). This is in turn enhanced by the industrial soundscape as if we’ve wandered into the desolate neighbourhood in Eraserhead (1977). Jeunet’s film has some of the most exquisite production design this side of a Gilliam film. The attention to detail is incredible and certainly invites repeated screenings in order to catch all of little things buried in the background of scenes.
For his feature film debut, Jeunet shows an impressive command of craft as he expertly orchestrates one of the film’s most famous sequences (it became the trailer) that marries images and the sound of Louison painting a ceiling, bed springs creaking as a couple has sex, Julie playing the cello, a woman beating a rug in the stairway, and a man pumping air into a bicycle tire all to the same rhythm. They all start off slow and then the pace picks up, building to the inevitable mutual climax to comedic effect.
Fans of Jeunet’s films have had to wait for what seems like forever for Delicatessen to be released on Region 1 DVD and finally the wait is over. For people who only know his work through Amelie (2001), this is a chance to see where that movie came from. Delicatessen was the blueprint for all other Jeunet films to follow, featuring an irrepressible protagonist who injects a sense of engaging child-like wonderment into an otherwise cynical world.
There is an audio commentary by Jean-Pierre Jeunet who explains that the origins of the film come from a time when he lived above a butcher’s and was woken up at seven in the morning to the sound of him sharpening his knife. His fiancé jokingly suggested that the butcher was going to start killing tenants off and Jeunet never forgot that idea. The director comments on how he made Delicatessen on a low budget and how challenging it was to realize his vision with little money. He tells all kinds of anecdotes and explains what inspired certain shots or where certain props came from. This is a very engaging and informative track that is definitely worth a listen.
“Fine Cooked Meats: A Nod to Delicatessen” features a lot of on the set footage of scenes from the film being shot. It shows how much work went into the film but doesn’t provide any insight or context, which, I suppose, is the purpose of the commentary.
“The Archives of Jean-Pierre Jeunet” features a collection of behind-the-scenes footage, including Pinon auditioning, rehearsal footage of scenes not in the movie, and Jeunet scouting locations for certain scenes that are juxtaposed with what they look like in the finished film.
Finally, there is the theatrical and teaser trailers for the film.