Delicatessen is a classic French black comedy set in a post-apocalyptic village where seeds and grains are the exchange currency. The butcher advertises for handy-men in a journal called Hard Times and then slaughters the applicants and sells their meat to his weird tenants, who have surrealistic activities: a man who lives in a flooded room full of frogs and snails, a woman who constantly fails at suicide attempts so involved they would be worthy of Wile E Coyote, and two brothers who manufacture mooing machines for no apparent reason.
The trailer for Delicatessen is a scene from the early part of the film, where the butcher, Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) is having sex with a woman (Karin Viard) who seems to be as much captive as partner.
As his lustful tempo, played out on the squeaky bedsprings, increases in speed, so do the activities of all the tenants: the butcher sets the pace in this world (and by implication in our world too).
Into this house of horrors comes a gentle (vegetarian) clown, Louison (Dominique Pinon), who has left the circus after his partner, Doctor Livingstone, was eaten.
Livingstone, it turns out, was a chimp, but his sorrow is no less real for that.
The butcher’s daughter, Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) falls in love with him and tries to warn him of his likely fate.
Julie dreams about the upcoming butchery of Louison, and decides to save him. To do this, she has to seek the help of the Troglodistes, an underground group who are vegetarian and hate the “surfacers”, who hunt them. Their motivation is the 30 bags of corn in her father’s house. Her motivation: love. Her father’s: meat. Can there be a more French theme? She returns to find:
But he’s a clown – this is a new act he is rehearsing.
Since Louison did not appear on the steps last night, where the killings are done, the butcher is instead selling bits of the mother of one of the tenants. As the tenant leaves the butcher, a neat packet of her mother’s flesh under her arm, she says:
“We’ll do that now” her husband assures her.
Look, none of it makes any sense, but that’s to be expected. All we can conclude is that voracious appetite (of which cannibalism is the highest form) doesn’t pay.
And love always triumphs…
… even if it’s underwater.
The director Marc Caro’s cameo (in goggles).
Rotten Tomatoes currently gives Delicatessen an impressive 89% “fresh”. The Washington Post called Delicatessen “a tasteless variation on Sweeney Todd set geographically near the border of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil” while Unsung Films said it was “reminiscent of Amélie – and …much braver”. Amélie was the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 masterpiece.
Empire summed up Delicatessen as “simply essential viewing for vegetarians”.
Cannibalism films often have that effect.