You've seen Amelie, so you know what you're in for with a Jean-Pierre Jeunet flick. A little tomfoolery, a little surrealism, some tricks with the cam -- what? You say you haven't seen Amelie?
Where are you from again? Why are you reading this web site? Have you come from The City of Lost Children?
Tsk. Tsk. A tasket. We'll catch your fingers in the basket.
Ah, I see you are now intrigued (or, if not, at least without fingers to click to another page). And when you get hungry from all this reading (and waiting) there'll be appetizers: finger sandwiches.
I saw the movie in question -- yes, Delicatessen, if you must -- long ago, so long ago that it remained only a dream of a movie. The movie was released in 1991 and was the first Jeunet movie -- as he says in his commentary -- to really be his own vision: surreal, magical, focused on character and the intricate playing out of events that are spurred by character.
The character under consideration here is Louison (Dominique Pinon), a clown who lost his partner, Dr. Livingston, and so has taken a job as the handyman of an apartment building. However, the building he now lives in functions mainly through cannibalism enforced by the butcher/landlord Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus). As always in movies about people eating people (See Soylent Green. [SPOILER AL -- oh, fark]) hilarity ensues.
The movie is beautiful, wonderfully shot, wittily written, well-acted, and pretty much driving forward (in a leisurely, confident manner) throughout. Jeunet talks about his preference for the short-focus lens and how that and the special and experimental (at the time) film development process produced a style both mythic and intimate.
There is a large cast of characters, but each is fully developed through small actions, whether it's the cab driver allowing himself to be thumped on the head, or a family man's eagerness for the next meal -- I mean, temporary resident -- to be dispatched.
Will Louison survive? Will his budding romance with Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac), the butcher's daughter, spell his doom or his freedom? Will the Troglodytes reclaim the surface world and bring Post-Apocalyptic France to a new age of peace and prosperity? Can romance even spell doom?
You decide. And . . . have a sandwich.
One of the most enjoyable extras on this DVD is a selection of five or so teasers for Delicatessen, each about fifteen to twenty seconds long and providing, mainly, a glimpse of the movie's weirdness. The scenes that make up the teasers are spliced from various portions of the movie but made to seem, more or less successfully, as though they relate. Do they tell you what the movie is going to be about? No. Do they spark an interest? Yes. Are they fun to see after watching the movie? Definitely.
And they set a strange precedent. The trailer for the movie is an entire scene, uncut, where all the inhabitants of the post-apocalyptic apartment building are in synch with one another, doing different activities, all to the rhythm of sex.
Does this at all describe the plot or even the theme of the movie? Not quite. But it does give a clear and present introduction to the style of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (though, if you've seen Amélie -- as the cover of the DVD insinuates so slyly -- then you already know what you're in for. Though this movie is far stranger, and more brutal).
The DVD also contains an interesting archive selected from Jeunet's masters, shot on HI-8. This eight minute segment shows what seems to be a screen test of Dominique Pinon, various rehearsals, and some locations scouting, all of which are interspersed with their finished counterparts from the film. Well, all except for an un-filmed scene of Sylvie Laguna's where she's trying to contact her dead father. Which, you know, is cool and all. We're all trying to contact our dead father. Some of us just have a little more self respect.
One of the strangest extras is Fine Cooked Meats: A Nod to Delicatessen, which is really a production film, a making-of featurette. Except that, really, there is no "making of," except in the literal sense that what we are shown are bits of life filmed as the film was put together. There is no narration to this twelve plus minute opus, though (after watching the film) you don't need one.
Scenes from the film are shown so that the before and after are visible, so that all the production crew is evident, and so the art that makes a set a fantasy world is clear. The roof battle, for example, takes place on the building top that is only yards from the ground, but the angle of the camera and the darkness enforce the feeling of height. And the whole behind-the-scenes has made me fall in love with Marie-Laure Dougnac. For those parents out there, be informed, to your relief, that this edition does not come with the famed behind-the-clothes option.
Of course the major part of any DVD (ideally) is the commentary. The director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is on the commentary and, in fact, is the only commentator. If you are interested in the director, or in how a film coheres from various influences, you'll find the commentary well done. He talks about how the comedian Buster Keaton was the influence for the rhythmic set-piece of the film, and the various trials and tribulations (no forces, please) that the production crew had to go through in order to establish funding and then make the movie on limited funds -- the latter (with the film) being proof that style and substance can trump budget.
Most disturbingly, he mentions a process by where he changes one actor's directions in a scene without telling anyone else, in order to capture the heightened energy and realism of improvisation. The uncomfortable part comes where he talks about having the butcher (Drefyus) slap Julie (Dougnac) for real, explaining how the tears we see in the final scene come from her feeling humiliated. It's moments of revelation like this that make this commentary worthwhile.
And, of course, he's talking in French. At no extra charge.
The Movie Itself: 10 out of 10
The DVD Features: 8 out of 10