Lionsgate // 1991 // 99 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Kristin Munson (Retired) // August 29th, 2008
"What happened to your friend happens here. It takes place at night, on the stairs. That's why no one goes out."
Perhaps as penance for the gore-slicked stream of slasher flicks it inflicts on the public, Lionsgate has been releasing some gorgeous new versions of international films, and next on the docket is Delicatessen: Special Edition
Delicatessen was the first feature-length movie from Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, the makers of The City of Lost Children and it's near-perfect. It's one of most romantic movies ever made and it's all about cannibalism in post-apocalyptic France.
Wait! Come Back!
It's never explained how the lush land of France became a fog-shrouded wasteland where nothing grows and grain is worth more than gold, but it can't have been good.
In an isolated apartment complex, residents are going missing just as a new shipment of meat arrives in the Butcher's shop downstairs. Everyone in the building knows what's going on except the newest arrival, Louison (Dominique Pinon, Diva), a circus performer turned handyman.
Surrounded by tenants of the suicidal and homicidal variety, the Butcher's daughter sets out to save the unwitting Louison from becoming a prime cut in their frog eat frog world.
Whenever I chip in about the films I find romantic, nobody bats an eyelash at Freaks or The Nightmare Before Christmas, but if I bring up Delicatessen, I never get much further than the "cannibalism in post-apocalyptic France" part of the synopsis before someone recoils.
Cannibalism is perfectly acceptable, it seems, when presented as the stuff of nightmares or played for ghoulish giggles like in Sweeney Todd or the Danish comedy The Green Butchers, but try to convince people it can work in a romantic fantasy, and suddenly you're the pariah of the party and your hosts are doing everything they can to keep between you and the utensils.
Come on, isn't love really all about wanting to nibble someone's bits?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet is better known for the crowd-pleasing romance Amélie but, where that movie can be teeth-achingly sweet, Delicatessen is darkly whimsical, a cartoon come to life.
The film unfolds in a series of fade-to-black fragments, taking obvious cues from Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy by building up the story in wordless vignettes coordinated around a simple piece of music on the television or household sounds. In the movie's most memorable sequence, the pace of the chores throughout the apartments takes on the same rhythm as the creaking bedsprings of the Butcher bedding his girlfriend, until objects burst and break at the moment of climax.
Every floor of the building reveals an ever weirder array of eccentrics, carrying out an oddball existence like the whole world hasn't gone to hell (or maybe because it has). One tenant has turned his apartment into a swamp so that he can grow his own escargot, another keeps busy by designing hugely complicated ways to kill herself. In a way, Delicatessen is one big Rube Goldberg device, since every one of the characters and props introduced plays an integral part in the grand finale.
The best love stories are ones that play out as part of a larger plot and, though the main couple are homely by Hollywood standards, the tentative love story shines thanks to the careful balance of strange and sweet.
Dominique Pinon takes the object of unmitigated terror that is the circus clown and crafts him into the movie's one truly lovable character. Louison is the one person with any hope left in him, and he combats his dark world with the ordinary magic of making bubbles as he cleans the building or serenading the butcher's daughter, Julie, via the building's empty pipes.
Delicatessen uses an intentionally over-saturated palette of bilious yellows, warm oranges, and crisp greens to set the mood, but the anamorphic transfer is carefully balanced, only taking on some grain during the film's foggier portions. Many of the set pieces rely heavily on their sound and the newly mixed 5.1 Stereo doesn't disappoint. In addition to the usual trailer and photo gallery, the DVD has a subtitled commentary by Jeunet, "The Making of Delicatessen," and "The Archives of Jean-Pierre Jeunet." The two featurettes are variations on a theme and are both sort of "meh." If you like rehearsal footage there's lots of it, and one scene is followed from audition tapes up through final rehearsals, but all the really interesting production info is in the commentary. Jeunet talks about everything from how FX were achieved to why Marc Caro refuses to join him in the recording booth. He's funny and chatty and fills the entire 99 minutes with interesting stories, something rare among DVD commentators.
The movie's R rating implies frisky Frenchmen in le buff, but this is the tamest R movie I've ever seen. Minimal swearing, no nudity, and almost none of the red stuff make it a PG-13 at worst.
There's nothing terribly special to this "special edition." Many of the set pieces rely heavily on their sound and, despite Lionsgate's claim of a 5.1 remix, it's really the same robust 2.0 stereo from the 2006 DVD. The only actual changes between this release and the still available Miramax original are Spanish subtitles and a slipcase that's, um, shiny.
Wait! Come back!
With only an extra set of subtitles going for it, Delicatessen: Special Edition is a shameless double dip, not worth an upgrade. If you haven't already added this cinematic sweetbread to your collection though, the only decision left to make is what color spine you want on your shelf.
Lionsgate is hereby ordered to work on a more original menu. Now stop gnawing on my leg.
Review content copyright © 2008 Kristin Munson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio commentary by Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet
* Fine Cooked Meats: The Making of Delicatessen
* The Archives of Jean-Pierre Jeunet
* Theatrical Trailer
* Photo gallery