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Delicatessen by Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jenuet (Dirs.)
Review by Rogan Marshall
Date: 02 May, 2006 List Price $29.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Cast: Pascal Benezech as Tried to Escape * Dominique Pinon as Louison * Marie-Laure Dougnac as Julie Clapet * Jean-Claude Dreyfus as Clapet * Karin Viard as Mademoiselle Plusse * Ticky Holgado as Marcel Tapioca * Anne-Marie Pisani as Madame Tapioca * Boban Janevski as Young Rascal * Mikael Todde as Young Rascal (as Mikaël Todde) * Edith Ker as Grandmother * Rufus as Robert Kube * Jacques Mathou as Roger * Howard Vernon as Frog Man * Chick Ortega as Postman * Silvie Laguna as Aurore Interligator

Against a background of post-apocalyptic society slowly breaking down, the denizens of a run-down apartment building survive by allowing their landlord (Jean-Claude Dreyfus, later star of Rohmer's The Lady and the Duke), who runs a butcher's shop on the first floor, to sell them human meat. This he accomplishes by advertising for a handyman, working the guy until he's all muscle, then, in the middle of the night, with a big cleaver, he sneaks up the stairs, and... Anyway, the new handyman slash unwitting victim-to-be is a former clown (Dominique Pinon, a major supporting player in all of Jeunet's movies, as well as memorably playing the hitman who hates everything in Diva); he develops a flirtation with the butcher's daughter (Marie-Laure Dougnac), who, while keeping her clan's dark secret, plans to escape with its next projected victim - into the city sewer system, rumored to be occupied by dangerous vegetarian human moles…

This minor French classic is a memorized favorite, at my house. Delicatessen is strikingly original and utterly engaging, a gorgeous, baroquely detailed mix of romance, comedy, and dark Heavy Metal-style science fiction. (The influence of the original Metal Hurlant was even more apparent in the second and final collaboration between Jeunet and co-director/production designer Caro, City of Lost Children.) (And by the way, if you haven't seen Jeunet's 2001 masterpiece Amelie, you're wasting your time, right now. Go straight to the Netflix site, or to your local videostore, where you'll find the DVD on the very first shelf in the foreign section, and rent it immediately. Trust me: Amelie is one of the most breathtaking and beautiful cinematic experiences you will ever have.)

The only movie that Delicatessen reminded us of, when it first came out, was Gilliam's Brazil (in fact, the posters and print ads for Delicatessen proudly proclaimed, "Terry Gilliam presents," a secondary tagline which attracted a good deal of attention among cool kids at the time, and then didn't make it to the video release, for some reason). While a lot of young filmmakers have worn these influences on their sleeves since, Gilliam and Heavy Metal magazine that is, no one has done such a good job of it as Jeunet and Caro did; certainly, no one else has leavened their psychedelic claustrophobic futurescape with such a rich sense of humor, such a warm sense for character and romance, such dizzying detail in design. (Like City of Lost Children, the look of this movie must be seen to be believed.)

If you're one of the people I'm writing for, here – that is to say, one of the people outside this loop ("Who is Rogan talking about? What the hell are these French movies, anyway?") – don't feel left out – feel lucky. This is easily among the twenty or so best science fiction movies of the last quarter century; I wish I could see it for the first time, again, myself. Nothing really recaptures the dazzlement of first exposure to unique and brilliant filmmakers like Jeunet and Caro.

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