“I have a lovely memory of my producer, Claudie Ossard, who came to see us in these sewers. She’d come in Chanel suits and high heels. It was surreal to see her among these Troglodists dripping in oil.”–Jean-Pierre Jeunet
FEATURING: Dominique Pinon, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Karin Viard, Howard Vernon
PLOT: In the near future, parts of French society have collapsed, most Parisian buildings
are burned out husks, and citizens have turned to a barter economy. Among the many shortages experienced by city folk is a lack of fresh meat, but one butcher always seems to have enough flesh to trade for corn, or sex. Answering an ad for a handyman, an ex-clown arrives at the bizarre boarding house run by the butcher and begins a chaste romance with his daughter—but is he there to do odd jobs, or does the butcher have something else in mind?
- The first of two films co-directed by Jeunet and Caro. The pair conceived the idea for The City of Lost Children (also on the List of the 366 best weird movies of all time) first, but it was too expensive to produce. Delicatessen could be shot on a single sound stage, cheaply, so they produced this film first.
- In the opening titles, Caro is credited with “direction artistique,” while Jeunet is responsible for “mise en scène.”
- Jeunet, one of three co-writers on the film, says that the idea for the story came to him because he used to rent a room above a butcher’s shop and would be awoken by the sound of the butcher sharpening his cleaver every morning. His fiancee would joke that the landlord was killing his tenants for meat in order to convince him to move to a new apartment.
- Caro not only refused to participate a director’s commentary, saying that he didn’t believe in them, but also requested that footage of him not be used in the behind-the-scenes segments on the DVD. In his commentary, Jeunet implies that Caro is too self-critical, dryly suggesting Caro thought the film a failure because a barely visible garden hose was unintentionally left in one shot.
- Delicatessen was picked as the Best Film at the Tokyo International Film Festival. At home in France it won four César’s, including Best First Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Production Design, and Best Editing.
- The original trailer for the American release simply contained the entire “bed-spring symphony” scene, with the movie’s title appearing at the end.
- At the time of release some reputable American critics reported that the film was either co-produced or “presented by” Terry Gilliam, although Gilliam’s name doesn’t appear anywhere in the credits. It seems likely the Monty Python alum, whose early films are tonally similar to Jeunet and Caro, played some part the American distribution.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Howard Vernon’s aquatic second floor apartment, covered in a few centimeters of algae-green water and inhabited by frogs and snails who climb over all the furniture, the record player, and even over the dozing actor. In the corner is a giant pile of discarded escargot shells.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Wandering through Delicatessen is like taking a tour of a
Spanish trailer for Delicatessen
dilapidated French boarding house filled with insane tenants, most pleasantly eccentric, some downright creepy. You peer inside each room and find something unique and discomfiting. The film is filled with bizarre characters and absurd comic interludes, set in a decaying near-future universe that is artificially “off.”
COMMENTS: Except for Marie-Laure Dougnac’s eyes, there is no blue in Delicatessen, Continue reading 35. DELICATESSEN (1991)