For those who have been turned on to Foreign cinema by Jean-Pierre Jeunet's wonderfully quaint French classic Amelie, Delicatessen, a film made ten years before, is chock full of the director's visionary trademarks that have effectively helped to carve out his own cult fan-base. Jeunet, also director of City Of Lost Children (which he co-directed with Marc Caro) and the under-rated Alien Resurrection, has essentially created a swirling and thick visual exterior in his films that mistily envelope the audience into the narrative world of the film they are viewing. Once again co-directing with Marc Caro, Jeunet has delivered a quirky science-fiction comedy that has garnered enormous popularity.
When viewing Delicatessen, one will realise that it makes perfect sense for Jeunet to have been hired to follow David Fincher in directing Alien Resurrection, in that Jeunet seems to gleefully celebrate anything that is murky, post-apocalyptic and visually comic, whilst maintaining a very black edge. This is evident when one considers the actual Soylent Green-spin synopsis of Delicatessen - A young drifter named Louison (Dominique Pinon), arrives in a middle-of-nowhere town seeking work and lodging, and is given a place to stay above a local butcher's shop in exchange for his services as a handyman. This surrealistic world is a meatless and cannibalistic one, and 'real' food is a highly expensive commodity that is used as currency for grain. The local inhabitants of the town in which Louison visits all have a 'secret' agreement in which the Butcher supplies them with meat in exchange for their resisting of cannibal urges towards one another. However, unbeknownst to Louison, this agreement involves the Butcher supplying his very own-hired Handyman as food! This is just one subplot however, as there are many freakish and comic-book type characters and scenarios that exist amongst the disgusting background of the Delicatessen.
Jeunet and Caro's world is deliciously grotesque, in an almost French-like translation of the works of Gilliam or Lynch. Even Delicatessen's protagonist Louison, played wonderfully by Dominique Pinon who is himself a staple of Jeunet's films, looks freakishly like some deviated futuristic mutant degenerated from human kind. It's almost as if the humanity we are associated with has been completely removed from the Earth, and another humanoid race has evolved from the sewerage that spills out into the streets. Characters from the film are so bizarre and yet feel so perfectly in place. Take for example the frustrated women who is a complete failure when it comes to completing suicide; the more elaborate the suicide attempt, the worse the success level. Or how about the two boys who spy on a rather disgusting looking gentlemen who is committed entirely to the breeding of escargot amongst his flooded apartment? However, the knockout joke seems to belong to the (literally) underground group of lentil eaters sworn to subvert the cannibal's antics. This group seem like a collection made up totally of Robert De Niro's Archibald 'Harry' Tuttle character in Brazil.
It is painfully obvious watching Delicatessen that Jeunet was merely testing out ideas, as if practising in preparation for a later film that would utilise his skills more effectively, such as the splendid little Amelie. Jeunet and co-director Caro perfectly visualise the grimy world of Delicatessen, complementing Darius Khondji's gangrenous cinematography magnificently. Here lies the major problem with Delicatessen; it creates a world and its characters perfectly, but doesn't quite know what to do with them. Indeed, there are times when the scripting feels so restrained you feel unsatisfied. Put simply, the actions involved in the plot aren't gory enough and disgusting enough. This is probably deliberate, but as films such as Evil Dead 2, the comedy is enhanced by a higher amount of excessive visual grossness. It's as if the plot and narrative are secondary to Jeunet and Caro's indulgent morbid visuals.
None of the above renders Delicatessen a lousy movie; in fact, it's a very worthy one that highlights fantastic cinematic skill from Jeunet and Caro. However, the story, when compared to something like Amelie, is lacking and nothing more than a cut-of-paste job of various society facets thrown together in a sketchy-comic-book-like manner. It says something about the world we live in when vegetarians champion the film as a promotion of their cause, when this is surely the last thing Jeunet and Caro were attempting. Delicatessen is a fantastic effort that ultimately falls short of masterpiece status, but it still offers much visual food for thought.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the print suffers from the occasional shimmer and speckle and the transfer exhibits a few artefacts and some grain. However, despite all of these minor blemishes, the transfer looks fine as a visual presentation, and perfectly complements the film's aesthetic exterior.
As Delicatessen is presented in it's original French langage stereo track, UK audiences are not going to be too bothered by the lack of a decent 5.1 surround track. The 2.0 surround track does the job adequately enough, with some spatial sound events and some decent and full effects, even if dialogue is mostly restricted to the 'middle' channel.
Menu: A wonderful menu that zooms in above the Delicatessen of the film and enters via a window the dining room, which contains many in-film icons that lead into various departments of the DVD, complete with subtle music from the film.
Packaging: A transparent amaray packaging with a nicely stylish cover artwork. Chapter listings are visible via the transparent amaray as they are printed on the reverse of the inlay card.
Audio Commentary With Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Jeunet comments alone as he mentions that his partner in crime Marc Caro hates commetaries and never listens to them. In this case, Jeunet's sole inclusion on the commentary doesn't matter as he speaks in French, which is translated in English via subtitles. Jeunet is frank and honest about the film and explains the origins of its concept and how some of the scene ideas he and Caro thought were their own were discovered to be imitations of older films after the film was released.
'Fine Slices By Diane Bertrand' Featurette: A thirteen minute French language featurette with English subtitles that gives an in-depth and concise look at the behind-the-scenes processed of Delicatessen. As a short featurette, it is worth watching for glimpses of how Jeunet and Caro achieved the film's distinctive look.
From The Archives Of Jean-Pierre Jeunet: This is a seven minute collection of screen-tests and rehearsal footage that seemed to have been thrown in for the sake of inclusion. They are nice to watch on a rainy day, but don't actually contrubute much to the growth of the audiences' understanding of the filmmaking process of Delicatessen.
Trailer: Misleadingly, this is actually a role of six teaser trailers and one full trailer, which are bizarre and completely different from each other.
Despite the French origins of the film and extras, it's refreshing to note some effort has gone into the DVD of Delicatessen by Momentum, with good subtitling and decent picture and sound quality. The film is just what you expect in the form of a grotesque and surreal cannibalism-black-comedy, and although not a match for Jeunet's later effort Amelie is still a delightful effort, even if the plotting ultimately falls short.