Friday, October 7, 2011


Delicatessen is a french film made twenty years ago in 1991 by Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It is a post-apocalyptic film, in a sense. It is a post-apocalyptic film in the best sense, or rather it illustrates exactly what I love about the genre, i.e. it was made cheap and it was made well and it shows you through the absence of our present culture what the film-makers think is fundamental about human nature 'underneath' societal norms.

The attitude of this film is probably best described as 'cynically optimistic', although the setting is not optimistic at all: the post-apocalypse in Delicatessen could be the same one as depicted in 'The Road'. Nothing lives, nothing grows and the only alternative to dried and preserved cereals is cannibalism.

Unlike 'The Road' this situation does not cause complete societal collapse. Rent still needs to be paid. Currency simply becomes beans and pulses ( such as lentils ). There is even an active Postal Service.

The post-apocalyptic French postman is a very different character to Kevin Costner's American equivalent. Perhaps he reflects the French experience with actual occupation, because he is not only no kind of inspiration to anybody: he's just a bureaucrat with no interest beyond his cushy job and using the power of the organisation behind him to exploit whatever is left to exploit: he just represents another element of oppression.

In this instance what he wishes to oppress and exploit most is the butcher's daughter, played by Marie-Laure Dougnac but I'm getting ahead of myself...
Upon reflection, I think it might be wrong to summarise this film: anything I that could possibly say by way of a synopsis of 'Delicatessen' is kinda spoiler, because the film is crafted to play with our expectations.

The best way I think of describing it is like this: Humans, sharing an apartment-building in the toughest times imaginable, are paraded before us in the most entertaining way possible. Their actions, though bizarre and surreal, illustrate their greed and their humanity and show the film-makers love and interest in different sorts of characters.

Dominique Pinon plays the protagonist, an ex-circus performer, with a head like a bucket that someone kicked, and who is just as dumb as Inspector Clouseu or Forrest Gump or even Homer but his advantage is the combination of his ingenuity and innocence.

Delicatessen is at its heart a dark comedy. It is not a perfect story, and it is not a 'fully realised' or 'thought about and projected' dystopia , intended as any kind of warning or social commentary,– it is merely a film and it knows it's a film and it tries hard to be the best film it can be.
Its detractors will point out that it sacrifices believability for style at many points, but the style is skillful and charming and, after all, how earnestly do you want to believe in a famine-wracked cannibalistic future anyway?

I love it.

1 comment:

  1. Saw this in the Lighthouse all those years back.

    You should also try "City of Lost Children" by the same directors. As good, but different vision in the altogether.

    Peace and Hope