Humor is not something one would normally associate with murder. With Delicatessen, however, directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro are intent on doing just that. It tells a darkly funny tale of a group of people living in an apartment building in post-apocalyptic France. The landlord, Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), hires employees to do work around the building, and murders them in the dark of night, so he can chop them up to sell as meat in his delicatessen. One day, Clapet hires Louison (Dominique Pinon), an unemployed circus clown. Louison begins to fall in love with the landlord’s daughter, Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac), who hires a group of underground vegetarians to save Louison from the fate of her father’s butcher knife.
Let me start off by saying that this is one of the funniest films I have seen in a long time. Instead of taking the “disturbing” route by showing us numerous violent scenes, the directors keep this, for the most part, a comedy. Humor is whimsically found in the most mundane of things, such as musical instruments, human mannerisms, and rhythm. To add to that, we also get great laughs in the form of running gags and slapstick, as well as great sitcom.
The thing about this movie, however, that makes it as great as it is, is its characters. They’re all so damn likable! Our main protagonists, Louison and Julie, have lots of chemistry together, while the antagonist butcher is so overblown, you cannot help but feel for him, too. Additionally, we get to see other occupants of the apartment, each with their own unique personalities. One clever running gag features a suicidal woman, whose increasingly creative attempts at killing herself keep getting foiled by accident. Because she is such a well-written character, the woman makes you feel for her, and flows nicely into the tone of the story. Possibly the most commendable decision of the filmmakers, however, is that the apartment itself is one of the film’s strongest characters. Little things such as plumbing flaws, echoes, and bed-springs are very characteristic, and lend themselves to the movie’s ingenious set and sound design.
This is both Jeunet and Caro’s first feature film, and their direction is unrelenting. You may know Jeunet as the director of 2001′s Amelie, a film different in tone, but similar in whimsy. Here he and his co-director stylishly paint an uncompromising picture of a dystopia, aided by some of the most thoughtful art direction and cinematography I have recently seen. Everything is tinted by a rusty hue, which creates a feel like no other. The mood is bleak, but not in a depressing way; there is enough hope and humor here to keep the viewer involved and happy. Inside the confines of the apartment, the writers and directors trust their characters enough to make this film likable, instead of dark and dreary.
Delicatessen, in addition to being an artistic work of genius, is an extremely funny film. It is a movie that will make you both laugh and admire the directors’ brilliance at the same time. Although this uniquely dark, yet funny tale will fill you up, you’ll still wish for another course.