Delicatessen (1991)

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Released 27-Jul-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Black Comedy Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1991
Running Time 95:04
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (51:55) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Marc Caro
Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Pascal Benezech
Dominique Pinon
Marie-Laure Dougnac
Jean-Claude Dreyfus
Karin Viard
Ticky Holgado
Anne-Marie Pisani
Boban Janevski
Mikael Todde
Edith Ker
Rufus
Jacques Mathou
Howard Vernon
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Carlos d' Alessio


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Swedish
Finnish
Danish
Norwegian
Smoking Yes, Just the kids, briefly
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     "To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams."

Giorgio DeChirico (1888-1978), Italian surrealist painter.

     It may be useful to keep the above quote in mind if this is your first encounter with Delicatessen. Made in 1991, this strange expression of a dream burst onto the European cinema scene, gathering award after award for the enfants terribles, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Not bad for their debut performance in creating feature films, which would result in later recognisable projects such as City of Lost Children and Amélie.

     Certainly, the filmmakers succeeded in creating a realm of childhood visions and dreams. Every element of Delicatessen is imbued with the fantastic, the sinister and the symbolic - one run-down apartment block in a post-apocalyptic France becomes a brooding microcosm for its inhabitants. Everything that sustains them and everything that they fear resides there in the crumbling tenement. The decaying world in which they exist provides little in the way of food - neither many grains or any meat. But the enterprising butcher, Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), whose delicatessen is on the ground floor, has discovered a way of providing the residents with meat and himself with the presiding power over their lives - he has found the flesh of travelling tradesmen to be very sweet. And so an apparently endless parade of maintenance men come to fix a light and go on to fill the bellies of the desperate residents.

      Enter Louison (Dominique Pinon), a tender-hearted and resourceful refugee from a travelling circus. His beloved partner, Livingstone, has already become a victim of the meat hunters elsewhere, and he is nursing his broken heart at his loss. His simple, gentle soul and tenderness is immediately recognised by Clapet's timid daughter, Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) and they come to make beautiful music together, the one sweet and tender balm in a building of brutality.

      The tumbledown apartments are broken and creaking and the residents are fearful and anxious. What connects each inhabitant, other than a cord of fear, is the maze of whistling pipes in the walls of their buildings. Through this labyrinth of metal, they communicate with each other, and thus their solitary lives connect in a disembodied kind of way. From the basement comes the plink of water and the croak of frogs as the Frogman (Howard Vernon) sits ankle deep in water, cultivating his personal crop of frogs and snails, all of which he loves to death and commits to his stomach.

      Then there are the two toy makers who diligently make their "mooing cans" - carefully tuning each one to a pitch-perfect note. There is the Tapioca family, featuring two enterprising little rascals who know how to make their own fun, and a grandmother eternally knitting a jumper from a jumper she is unravelling in some endless cycle of futility.

      In yet another apartment, there is the aristocratic, inventive and totally barmy Aurore Interligator (the magnificent Silvie Laguna) who is desperately trying (and stupendously failing) to obey "the voices" who constantly tell her that her boyfriend is a jerk and that she should follow them to "the other side." Her incredibly elaborate attempts at suicide (every one of them a worthy candidate for the Darwin Awards) provide some of the most darkly comic moments of the film.

      Whilst the physical interaction of the characters is minimal, the whispering, moaning pipes connect their lives utterly, and the activities heard through those rusting vessels provide a rhythm to each other's existence.

      But of course, the main plot line here is that Louison is for the chop. With his arrival, each of the inhabitants stirs with anticipation - there will be meat upon their tables soon. But they did not factor in that Julie would fall in love with this gentle soul, nor did they conceive that Louison himself was more wily than he at first appeared. With the bumbling "assistance" of the underground vegetarian resistance group, Les Troglodistes, Julie desperately tries to save her love. However, she must first beat off the ugly advances of the Postman (Chick Ortega), who sees in the dispatch of Louison the double advantages of fresh meat and no competition in his pursuit of poor Julie.

      As the plot thickens, it is easy to see that the term "French Farce" is well deserved. Doors fly open, people run around on the stairs and doors bang shut again in a flurry of mostly meaningless activity. This film is a cacophony of absurdity and is deeply referenced with sly, winking homage to other surrealistic and stylistic greats like Fellini and Gilliam. Australian audiences may also get a giggle from Louison's weapon of choice, "The Australian" and Western Australia's export, Rolf Harris may himself feel very proud of a certain contribution he may have made to Louison's "Ticca Ticca Walk!"

      It's interesting that the surrealist movement is a product of post-war European artistry, and a child of the Dada movement. But where the Dada group were proponents almost of "anti-art" minimalism - the surrealist wildchild offspring was about total expression without the limitations of having to actually make sense. In that context, and in these times, there's something resonant in Delicatessen that makes it strangely satisfying viewing. By abandoning our normal insistence on everything being explainable, we can give our subconscious an indulgent treat with this one. There are broad allegorical sweeps about the nature of good in the midst of evil and the prevailing of nobility over our more base needs, but I don't believe this is so much a film to be analysed as a film to be immersed in. It is at once sinister and nightmarish and sweet and sly.

      I hadn't seen this film since the early 90's and wondered how it would be to see it again. If anything, I enjoyed it more this time, and like most Caro and Jeunet films, it more than stands up to repeated viewings. So, do you want to hear my one (and only) surrealistic joke?

Q. How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?

A. Fish!

(Or perhaps in this instance, the answer should be "Meat!")

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 16x9 enhanced.

     The overall quality of this transfer is very good. It has a faithful rendition of the tonal range of its original source which was intentionally dark and brooding. The whites when they appear infrequently are true and accurate and there is good depth and overall sharpness. There is no low level noise marring the production.

     The colour of this film is highly atmospheric and typically surreal. Everything is heavily cast in a richly saturated sepia tone adding to its fairy-tale-gone-wrong appearance. This deep, rich colour has been well captured and not distorted from my recollections of the original.

     There is some very mild motion blur and there is aliasing present, but not enough to be a nuisance. There are occasions where dust spots are evident, and there is some amount of grain, but this rather lends itself to the strange atmospherics of the production, and never bothered me unduly.

    Mandatory subtitles are available in English, Swedish, Finnish, Danish or Norwegian. They are timely and accurate and not too intrusive.

     This is an RSDL disc, with the layer change at 51:55 and it presents no major problems.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The only available audio track is French Dolby Digital 2.0.

     The sound is fortunately very good, and makes the most of its stereo source. There were also no problems with audio sync.

     The music is one of the guilty pleasures of this film. Its dreamy, cheeky quality strongly supports the atmosphere of the film, and Julie & Louison's contribution to the musical score with their duets on cello and woodsaw are complete and utter gems.

     The surround sound is remarkably directional from such a limited source and there was even some contribution of a bassy undertone by the subwoofer.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

      There are no extras on this disc.

Menu

     The menu is a glorious introduction to the imminent feast. Swish, swish swish goes Clapet's blades as he sharpens them for duty, while a bell tolls ominously in the background. Then, in an echoey cacophony, we hear Julie's cello sorrowfully sawing underneath a montage of "moos", hurried snatches of speech and the significant squeaking of bedsprings. The visual is static but simple to navigate.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There does not appear to be a Region 1 version of this film, but there is an R2 version which has significant features that we completely miss out on.

     The Region 4 version of this DVD misses out on:

      Apparently us Antipodeans are not considered worthy of such greatness. It's a crying shame as it would have been fascinating to explore Jean-Pierre Jeunet's intent more fully.

Summary

     It's a wild ride. It's dark. It's comic. It's absurd. It won't be to everyone's taste, but I enjoyed my return journey to Delicatessen.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Wednesday, July 07, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Jules F
The DVD Bits - Sarah G

Comments (Add)
UK R2 Version -
Q. How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb? -
why always the obsession with comparing to R1? there are other DVD regions! -
Region Comparisons - NewcastleBoy (read my bio)
Other versions -