Film Diary: Delicatessen (Marc Caro/Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1991)

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

There’s been some kind of catastrophe, in France and probably much further afield. It looks like the 1950s so it seems reasonable to suppose this is a post-nuclear world but anyway, in an unfashionable part of France there’s a semi-derelict building that’s owned by a butcher, with the butcher’s shop on the ground floor and a bizarre assortment of tenants in the remainder. Not to mention the butcher’s beautiful (but extremely myopic) daughter. We’re all set up for a modern twist on a classic folk tale.

Food is scarce, particularly meat, which poses problems for a butcher. But our enterprising landlord has a solution: he recruits a series of handymen for the building. After a few days or weeks the handyman moves on, with the help of the butcher’s cleaver which we see being sharpened in the opening scene while the last handyman attempts in vain to escape being turned into cutlets for the tenants. Enter at this point a one-time circus clown, down on his luck. He’s seen the ad for the handyman’s job and he’s unwittingly signed up to be on the menu. But the butcher hasn’t reckoned with his daughter falling for the clown, and recruiting the services of a band of vegetarian partisans…

The result is a surreal feast of the blackest farce. Desperately funny – the testing of the bedsprings is priceless – and visually stunning. The cinematography is a revelation; the camera scurries around like a little rat, poking into all the corners of this world and its strange inhabitants.

Absolutely delightful, very French, and a film that I’m sure I’ll be watching over and over again, finding new treasures every time. I’m astonished that this hasn’t yet made it to the standard lists of the the all-time greats.

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