Released for the first time on Blu-ray as part of the StudioCanal Collection comes Delicatessen (1991), Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s surreal, post-apocalyptic rom-com about the cannibalistic tenants of an apartment block run by a sadistic butcher, set against the backdrop of a dystopian battle between those who eat meat and those who stick to vegetables. How far one enjoys the sound of this synopsis is likely to reflect their enjoyment of the film. The first half of Delicatessen is charming, witty and poignant, as we spend time learning the various idiosyncrasies of the apartment-dwellers, and watching new tenant Louison (Dominique Pinon).
Our protagonist Louison falls gently in love with the butcher’s sweet-natured daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac). There are moments of real magnetism too – Dominique performing a bubble-blowing show for two children in a stairwell; Julie sweetly spilling tea over Dominique while not wearing her glasses; a tenant washing and taping together a condom already broken twice (while his two children play in the background).
Owing an enormous debt to Terry Gilliam – perhaps most obviously Brazil (1985) – Caro and Jeunet get as much as they can out of the apartment block, from distorted, panicked tracking shots and Dutch angles, to the touching restraint employed in softer moments between Louison and Julie, most impressively when the two play music together (on a cello and, oddly, a musical saw). The Blu-ray transfer is also near-impeccable. One or to shots are rather grainy, but for the most part it is pin-sharp and the hot, sticky marmalade-orange tint of the apartment block is really striking.
Unfortunately, Delicatessen’s charm begins to wear thin around the hour mark. It’s perfectly fine until the end, but considering how unassuming and endearing the first half is, the final scenes simply don’t appear nearly as ambitious or passionately put together. It is almost as if we are meant to be relishing the appeal of the film so much from the first half that the second can merely ride the wave, while unfortunately holding the brunt of what ‘plot’ there is (a coup undertaken by the Troglodytes; subterranean vegetarians). Thus, the final chase feels a little heartless and overly long. And yet the very end remains heartwarming, and in a much more anarchic way than the super-charmingly-French-saccharine Amelie (2001).
In terms of extras, one new retrospective documentary is particularly interesting, as are Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s archives, including casting calls, rehearsals, and original behind-the-scenes footage. As we see the actors becoming the mild, non-ostentatious characters which populate the film, and can almost feel the joy Jeunet takes in directing them. It’s just a shame that Delicatessen itself doesn’t feel this lovingly crafted all the whole way through.