DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Delicatessen, Blu-ray (1991/2010)

This is a very bleak setting with very black subject matter, but it’s not at all handled in a gory or tasteless fashion like a slasher film.

Published on September 15, 2010

Delicatessen, Blu-ray (1991/2010)

Delicatessen, Blu-ray (1991/2010)

Directors: Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro
Starring: Dominique Pinon, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Jean-Claude Dreyfus
Studio: StudioCanal/Lionsgate [9/14/10]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 color 1080p HD
Audio: French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Dubbed English DTS 2.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Audio commentary by Jean-Pierre Jeunet; “Main Course Pieces” – new retrospective documentary with Jeunet, cast/crew members and critics; “Fine Cooked Meats” – The Making of Delicatessen featurette; The archives of Jeunet; Theatrical trailer; Printed 20-page collectible booklet
Length: 96 minutes
Rating: *****

Lionsgate evidently have a deal with the European StudioCanal and this release is part of a special Collection being reissued with restored picture and sound and with new and exclusive bonus content. The result is very similar to The Criterion Collection’s efforts.  This was the quirky French duo’s first feature film, and was a substitute for their first hope to shoot – City of Lost Children – which was deemed too expensive by their producer. The black comedy is definitely a film buff’s film, with visual and plot references to several classic films.  For example one of the wives in the apartment is repeatedly trying but unsuccessfully committing suicide, as did Harold’s character in Harold and Maude. The Deli’s butcher and apartment owner is a Sweeney-Todd-like character who keeps (most of) the apartment’s residents alive thru nefarious means.

Delicatessen, though low-budget, was an immediate hit and established the signature distinctive style of Jeunet and Caro. It won ten French Cesar awards and was nominated for a BAFTA award for Best Film Not in English. Both the settings and the characters are surreal – the place is supposed to be a surviving deli and the ramshackle apartment above it following some sort of unexplained apocalypse. Grain has replaced bills and coins for money. It’s never explained how there can be motorcycle postal deliveries and delivery vehicles and taxis come and go, plus fairly consistent electric power, when there’s been a terrible armageddon.

Rubber-faced Louison (Pinon) – a former circus performer – arrives to answer a job ad for the deli which he saw in the paper (there’s also a newspaper?). He works hard, at first oblivious to the butcher’s plan to fatten him up and then kill him for his meat. A touching relationship with the butcher’s cello-playing daughter fills him in and in the end they thwart the butcher’s plans, but not before wrecking most of the apartment building. There are also several scenes on the colorful roof of the building – Jeunet & Caro have a thing about Parisian rooftops. They also frequently give water a major part in their films.  One of the weird characters in Delicatessen lives in the basement apartment and encourages serious water leaks because he raises snails and frogs which he eats. (Couldn’t get more French than that!) One of my other favorites is the pair of brothers who manufacture in their apartment those little cans that go “Moo” when you turn them over.

The surreal visual aspect of Jeunet & Caro films is aided by their cinematographer’s frequent use of a wide-angle lens close to faces to produce a distorted appearance. Their delightful mix of old and somewhat new technology is akin to that of Terry Gilliam in Brazil and elsewhere. There are black-and-white small TVs in some of the rooms, but they show only 1930s/40s music and dance shorts.  In her efforts to save Louison from a horrible fate, the butcher’s daughter gets in touch with a cadre of inept vegetarian revolutionaries, the Troglydites, but when they go to the surface to kidnap and save Pinon, they grab the wrong person. There are two wonderful scenes with the daughter playing her cello and Louison playing his musical saw. Caro has a small part in the film, but Jeunet (whose background was animation) has never acted. When asked why he replied “Because I’m too handsome.”

This is a very bleak setting with very black subject matter, but it’s not at all handled in a gory or tasteless fashion like a slasher film. If you are not turned off by fantasy/surreal elements, you will find it often totally hilarious. The rhythmic sequence set off by the squeaking bedsprings of the Butcher’s girlfriend’s bed is a slapstick masterpiece – Jeunet & Caro even used it full-length for their movie trailer! The image quality is superb  and though the soundtrack is not surround, it is lossless stereo and well conveys the echoey acoustic of the Troglodytes underworld, for example. The bonus extras are also well worth viewing. (Jeunet later directed Amelie, without the contribution of Caro’s more twisted oddities.)

— John Sunier

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