food in the arts 



Dir: Marc Caro, Jean Pierre Jeunet/ Wr: Gilles Adrien, Marc Caro/ France/ 1990
 Delicatessen Delicatessen
In a ravaged French city - possibly in a post-holocaust future, possibly an alternate 1950s - daily life trundles on, and a very French group of apartment tenants concentrate on a very French set of concerns : adultery, suicide, music and, most of all, food. The butcher (Dreyfus) who owns the block has developed a system to support his tenants by hiring odd-job men whom he fattens up and finally turns into tasty meats that usefully supplement the lentils that have taken over as hard currency in the starving city.

The only people who remain untouched by this meat-eater's corruption are the butcher's saintly daughter (Clapet), a wistful but myopic cellist, and the old man (Howard Vernon) in the cellar who has turned his home into a watery swamp to support the two essentials of French cuisine, frogs and snails. Into this tidily unhappy world comes Louison (Pinon), an ex-clown still grieving over the death of his monkey, whose good-natured decency moves Clapet to betray the cannibals to the subterranean revolutionaries, and who upsets the whole people-eating system.

While Delicatessen has a few bizarro precedents - Eraserhead, Brazil, Life On The Edge, The Last Battle - it is a delightfully original picture, poised perfectly between farce and horror. The sinister undertones of much recent French cinema comes out in the open in this mainly bloodless but conceptually gruesome item, which presents a cross-section of society stuck together in the crumbling apartment block and lampoons them all, from the senile brothers who manufacture moo-cow novelties to the rich woman whose elaborate suicide attempts consistently backfire. Pinon, best remembered as the bald punk assassin in Diva, is a quizzically charming hero, wandering around in his clown shoes and resourcefully doing his best to stand by his gutsy but fragile ladylove in a nightmare climax that finds them both on the run from the cleaver-wielding butcher.

The Jeunet et Caro team have hitherto worked exclusively in short films, and this is their first feature. They have traces of the style-consciousness of their compatriots Luc Besson and Jean-Jacques Beneix, but they also resurrect some of the light, albeit deep black, touch of Jacques Tati and have an unusal facility, perhaps derived from French cinema's great Jean Renoir, to love all their characters, no matter how horrid they may be. A fair bet for cult-dom, and a lot more likeable than its subject matter suggests. Essential viewing for vegetarians.


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Delicatessen -
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