Leave it to a pair of French directors/writers to make the post-apocalypse a whimsical good time. Gleefully unhinged and feasting on dark humor, DELICATESSEN is a unique cut of film that finds manic energy in the tale of love blooming amidst a cavalcade of bloodthirsty apartment tenants.
Setting the tone with the intro staging of a bumbling escape turned baroque murder, directors and writers Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet transport viewers to a the very French world of a decaying apartment complex set in the aftermath of some sort of cataclysmic event. Not that the occupants seem to mind as they have other issues that they deal with in their abnormal day to day lives, the least of which being their possible deathly run-ins with their landlord/murderer/butcher named Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus). While Claplet holds a seemingly fascist hold over his eccentric tenants, the man nonetheless provides a roof over their head and food for their bellies (just don’t ask where it came from). However, with the arrival of a former circus clown, the kind Louison (Dominique Pinon), things turn upside down in the chaotic apartment complex as the new tenant finds himself falling in love with Clapet’s mousy daughter (Marie-Laure Dougnac) and falling in the crosshairs of the other tenants looking for their next meal.
From there, Caro and Jeunet’s fanciful tale find time to also introduce a literal underground group of scavengers known as the Troglodytes who only continue to inject the proceedings with strange apocalyptic humor. If any of this makes sense is far from the point, and to the filmmakers’ credit, their story does find some sense in its non-sensibility but overall the charm of DELICATESSEN is in its playful, carnival-like atmosphere. Like a European mix of Wes Anderson and Tim Burton, DELICATESSEN concocts a strange and beautiful world that rises above its ugly circumstances as Caro and Jeunet and their production crew find liveliness in the walls of their strange apartment complex that is equally spacious and constricting thanks to Darius Khondji’s kooky camera movement busily capturing the weird goings-ons within Caro’s impressively designed world. With the likes of two brothers who spend their days making cans filled with cow noises to a perpetually suicidal woman to even a guy who just sits in the basement of the apartment surrounded by frogs and feasting on snails, this is a movie that matches its strange world with equally strange but involving characters. Like our likable protagonist of Lousion, the film exudes a childish circus act atmosphere that is raunchy and lovable in equal measure with a cast of performers ably bringing their own unique energies to their eccentric characters.
While DELICATESSEN, like most other films that thrive on eccentricity, can become wearing at certain points, it finds a warm anchor with the cute relationship of Lousion and Caplet’s daughter, Julie. Both Pinon and Dougnac portray their characters with a serious sense of care and affection for one another that blissfully contrasts with the bizarre and violent world around them that a viewer can’t help but cheer for the two weird lovebirds to make it to the end. With a solid love story at its core, even the increasing chaos of the film’s scenarios, which can at times feel like comedy sketches pulled together, fail to sink the lovable, winning heart within.
Taken together, the film has its faults, mainly in regards to pacing and a third act that kind of just throws a lot of weirdness in for the sake of having weird things happen but taken apart, DELICATESSEN never lacks a mesmerizing scene or unforgettable character. With Caro and Jeunet’s film, the apocalypse still sucks, but it is a hell of a fun time.