Delicatessen

The darkened skies outside shaded the colour of smog, a sickly green pallor which permeates every corner of the building, the walls inside are stained nicotine brown, the near-derelict tenement the only structure left standing on the crumbling street and the only light emanating from within the window of the Delicatessen, the butcher Monsieur Clapet working late into the night to secure another batch of street meat.

He has his regular customers, he has his favourite customers who receive the special cuts, and he also may or may not be looking for a handyman to service the apartments above, former clown Louison found acceptable to Clapet’s appraising eye and becoming known to the residents and especially Clapet’s daughter Julie whose reciprocated affection places her in a dilemma of how she should tell him the truth of the residents of the block.

The first collaboration of directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, Delicatessen is set in a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape where food is a scarcity and lentils and corn are used in bartering and the residents of the block are cannibals fed the flesh of those who have caught the eye of Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) with the eager but naïve Louison (Alien Resurrection’s Dominique Pinon) next on the menu when he has outlived his usefulness.

A dystopian fantasy of eccentric and idiosyncratic characters, there is Aurora (Silvie Laguna), driven to an elaborate assisted suicide attempt involving a sewing machine and a doorbell by the vulgar voices in her head and thwarted by a squeaky bedspring, there is the “frog man” (Howard Vernon) with his music and his molluscs in his indoor swamp, and there are Louison and Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac), duetting on cello and saw, while down in the sewers the Troglodistes plot to overthrow those above.

The production designs and realisation of the sets, costumes and the knick-knack retro-oddities as bizarre and quirky as the people who handle them unmistakable, the visual style came to define the works of Jeunet and Caro but is at times overwhelming, Delicatessen a fascinating novelty though one which feels more like a stream of unhinged consciousness than a coherent narrative, random whimsical events accreting into a rudimentary form rather than something planned and shaped by a more dedicated architect.

Restored in 4K for StudioCanal for a new edition which showcases the surreal environment of the multi-storey apartment block, created practically with minimal post-production additions, Delicatessen is supported by several archive features including a audio commentary from Jeunet, interviews with Jeunet and Caro, a “making of” documentary and rehearsal footage.

Delicatessen is available on 4K UHD Blu-ray, DVD and digital download from StudioCanal now

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