Delicatessen: Wonderfully Strange Food for Thought
America makes some interesting movies, but none quite so interesting as Delicatessen. This movie isn’t an American film; it’s not even filmed in America. Nothing about this movie is distinctly American. I don’t think that a movie like this could even be made in America, not in the way this movie was filmed. It’s bizarre but amazingly fascinating and well-put together. The characters are just as bizarre as the cinematography and the story itself, but it just adds to the fascination of the film. The twisted camera work and the synchronization of the stories add to the amazement of this twisted and somewhat comedic movie.
This is a French movie that came out in 1991. Supposedly, this was influenced by the work of Terry Gilliam, and I guess I can see it. The amount of Expressionism put into this movie is ridiculous both in a good sense and a bad sense. Gilliam has a knack of making some strange films (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for example), yet his films are fascinating as they are strange. This movie wasn’t filmed by Gilliam, but I can see how it could look like it.
The film’s main story revolves around Louison, (Dominique Pinon), an unemployed circus clown who moves into an old apartment complex run by a butcher named Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus). The butcher’s daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) falls in love with him but has a secret: her father kills people and sells their carcasses as meat. The apartment has subplots revolving around a man trying to maintain his family, a mentally-unstable woman trying to kill herself, two toymakers trying to make noisemakers, a mailman who loves Julie, and an underground group called the Troglodistes.
Dreyfus is just perfect as the maniacal butcher. He plays his character with such controlled poise but has no problems just losing control. He knows he is in control but maintains a restrained authority. Everyone fears him, and he knows it. Pinon has enough quirky and heart to make his character believable and even likable. His gags and showcase skills give the movie its humor, adding a sense of light to this already dreary setting. Yet, the movie is mainly about Julie, the innocent little ingénue. Dougnac benefits from looking ingénue-like, yet she maintains some subtle range. Her different emotions don’t appear too obvious, and those that are can be over the top. Yet, for the most part, she is subtle in her acting and maintains her innocent appearance.
What sells the story is how well everything comes together. This is a movie with numerous characters in one setting, and somehow each character interacts with each other enough to weave this story into a tight movie. However, it’s how they resolve that is just fun to watch. The suicidal woman tries so hard to kill herself, but every way fails. The final attempt has her in a room with gas burning, a shotgun pointed at her head, pills in her hand, a noose on her neck, and kerosene all over the floor. Despite this elaborate set, it still fails. The gun shoots the noose, causing her to fall, spit out the pills, put the match out and shut the oven. The ending of the movie has the same concept: all of the stories come together and elaborately result to the climax.
Even the most effective stories need proper cinematography, and that is what makes this movie fascinating. I enjoy Expressionism so much because it takes the audience into a new world. Everything is seen differently, even panicky. The exaggerations and camerawork give us this convoluted and disturbed world that would appear mostly normal to the outside world. The best example has to be how everything has to be in sync with the rhythms. Notice how to every squeak of the mattress springs, someone does something to follow the rhythm: Julie plays cello, Louison paints the ceiling, and Marcel pumps air into his bicycle tire. You know that something is going to offset the rhythm, and when it happens, everything happens in their expected manners. The camera adds some bizarre close-ups and bizarre angles that heighten the dark sense of the movie. Clapet wouldn’t be half as crazy hadn’t it been for the camera.
Bottom line: Delicatessen is a bizarre, fascinating, and just cool movie. The acting is good; the expressions are unique; the camerawork is effective; and everything comes together very well. This movie is so wonderful with its blend of exaggerated humor and madness that it takes us into a brand new world. It’s not very Hollywood at all. In fact, Hollywood would be too scared to think about this much less film it. Definitely see this twisted world of post-Expressionist France. You’d be surprised as to what you see.
Final rating: 8 out of 10 – Do Go