DELICATESSEN (1991) – The Dungeon Review!

It has been a patchy trip through 1990s horror and I am still in the early part of the decade. While there have definitely been a few gems the disproportionate amount of unwatchable nonsense has been mind-boggling. I knew this was going to be a rough trip which is part of the reason I am spreading the feature out over two months. Another reason I did this was to take the opportunity to review some of the 90s non-horror masterpieces. My first foreign film experience in a theatre (at least an original language subtitled film) was Pedro Almodóvar’s 1988 film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It was a brand new, enlightening experience that rocked my world. I fell madly in love with foreign films and seen as many as I could get my hands on. This was a challenge as our suburban theatres did not show foreign films, you had to drive to the big city of Toronto to see them; even video stores offered very little. My exposure unfortunately was pretty sporadic for a couple years at least until I moved to Vancouver in early 1990. I loved a lot of foreign titles through the decade and two of the most brilliant and original entries were directed by two men from France named Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Caro and Jeunet’s films Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children are not only two of my favourite films of the 90s but of all time!

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Delicatessen takes place in a post-apocalyptic France where food is used as money and meat is a luxury. Delicatessen’s story focuses on a dilapidated apartment building and its tenants overseen by butcher and delicatessen owner Clapet. Clapet has posted an ad for a handyman which includes room and board in the rundown building. The job is filled by Louison, a gentle and kind man who formerly worked as a clown. He replaces the former handyman who disappeared under mysterious circumstances after just one week of employment. We soon learn that the handymen hired by Clapet become meat in his deli which the building’s tenants all share.

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A rather grim premise for a fantasy comedy, but its charming love story and array of wonderfully eccentric characters ensure the grim premise is kept light. Louison the hired handyman and former clown is such a delightful and enduring character. I fell completely in love with him! Louison keeps an optimistic and hopeful outlook about people and society; despite the fact that his monkey partner was ambushed, killed and eaten by a hungry mob. Louison is smart and charismatic and concocts all manner of clever means to complete tasks. Equally lovable is Julie Clapet the butcher’s daughter. She can not prevent herself from falling for Louison despite knowing what inevitably happens to the building’s handymen. The stern butcher Clapet is an enforcer of rules and has little if any empathy for those around him; with the exception of his daughter Julie and girlfriend Mademoiselle Plusse. “I didn’t make this world!” he shouts. The animated butcher in his mind is simply trying to keep order in a disorderly situation. Aurore Interligator hears voices and makes several hilariously failed attempts at suicide, each attempt becoming grander and more outrageous! Her husband Georges pays very little mind to his wife. Other tenants include the voluptuous and feisty Mademoiselle Plusse, toymakers Robert and Roger, Marcel and Madame Tapioca, their two mischievous sons and Madame’s elderly mother, and a peculiar older man who has flooded his apartment and lives among frogs, snails and various other aquatic life. Also popping by is an arrogant and aggressive mailman who makes no secret of his desire for Julie Clapet, and The Troglodistes, an underground organization living in the city’s sewer system who are enlisted by Julie to help save Louison.

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The film is gorgeous and gothically stylish with elaborate and impressive sets that are both dark and whimsical. Every last scene in the film is amazing, but particularly extraordinary is the frogman’s water soaked apartment. Frogs hopping about, snails affixed to surfaces and it features the great Howard Vernon no less! And my very favourite, which I do not want to divulge in detail sees Louison forced to do some serious improvising to save his ass while he and Julie are trapped in his bathroom. The film is saturated in brown and red tones giving it almost an antique look. Its strange dark details are perfectly balanced with a light airiness that is nothing short of magical. Julie Clapet playing her cello alongside Louison’s musical saw is absolutely beautiful. The love story between Julie and Louison thoroughly warmed my heart without being the least bit syrupy or overly sentimental. Every single performance is excellent and the characterizations are all wonderful, intriguing and extremely watchable. I loved every single moment of Delicatessen! It is dark, beautiful, funny, quirky and is the most uplifting post-apocalyptic film I have ever seen! Delicatessen is one of the best films of the decade and a film I have re-watched several times over the years. It is simply amazing. Highest of recommendations!

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Starring: Pascal Benezech, Dominique Pinon, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Karin Viard, Mademoiselle Plusse, Ticky Holgado, Anne-Marie Pisani, Boban Janevski, Mikael Todde, Edith Ker, Rufus, Jacques Mathou, Howard Vernon, Chick Ortega, Silvie Laguna

14 Responses to “DELICATESSEN (1991) – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. How can I not like a movie with Howard Vernon? But even without Howard,it’s a marvelous film. A real treat. I really love quite a few films from the 1990’s. Sadly,very few are horror films. Many films in the horror genre made recently have carried on the 90’s tradition of what you so accurately called “unwatchable nonsense”.

    • He was in a ton of 60s stuff… and I am sure I don’t need to tell you, plenty of horror…but The Awful Dr. Orlof has definitely been one of my favourite Vernon roles. There really was some mighty non-horror entries in the 90s and I discovered not one but two GREAT horror films I loved from 92!

      • I love Howard Vernon in The Awful Dr. Orlof,too,but then I love the guy in EVERYTHING! Howard did several great interviews in some Fanzines I used to have. Wish I would have saved them! In an interview he did that was published in European Trash Cinema(which still might be available)in the 1990’s,he was particularly scathing of Christopher Lee!

  2. I remember renting this on VHS while I was still in high school and wondering about what other foreign films I had been missing out on (I had seen a few other titles at a younger age on cable). I found it unforgettable, although I’m extremely overdue on revisiting it. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen City of Lost Children since it first came out on VHS either. I recall thinking that while I enjoyed the latter, for some reason I preferred Delicatessen.

    • I’m a huge fan of A Very Long Engagement, too; Jeunet still has a hell of a way with a story.

      • I hate to admit this, but I have never seen A Very Long Engagement. I have an Angelo Badalamenti compilation that has a really nice piece of music from the film I’ve been dying to post on my YouTube channel. But I try to never post slideshows for films I haven’t seen. As it is I sometimes slip the wrong pic into a slideshow for films i’ve seen dozens of times. I will DEFINITELY add A Very Long Engagement to my queue!

      • Thanks for reminding me that I have yet to see A Very Long Engagement. I did catch and enjoy Micmacs though.

    • If forced under torture I would probably say Delicatessen is my favourite of the two…but I really think they are both amazing. I can’t believe how manually everything was done for the film. That crazy bathroom scene looked like it was actually dangerous for the actors. Be care Mr. Pinon!! Even the damn credits are extremely cool!

  3. The saw & cello duet is fantastic. It has become a staple for musical saw players: http://youtu.be/jpYS2Z2Eik8

  4. I know I liked this when I saw it in the 90s, but I really need to revisit it.

    • I suppose it is redundant to say…but I think this film is quite special and unique. Well worth a revisit in my opinion!

  5. It’s funny that you mention your first foreign experiences, because Delicatessen was one of mine. I saw a bunch of French films in high school, and then Run, Lola, Run as an adult… but nothing after that until I was 30 or so. Delicatessen may have been the first one that really got me rolling on foreign films about 6 years ago. It’s a really fun movie.

    • I had actually seen loads of foreign films growing up, mostly Japanese monster movies and Italian horror but always dubbed. I actually enjoy some of the sketchy dubs on some of the monster movies but otherwise I would never EVER choose dubbing over subtitles. Almodovar’s Women on the Verge ranks pretty low these days on my list of favourite foreign films but it sure rocked my world the first time around.

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