Delicatessen Review

The Film

It's tempting to find an easy description for Jeunet and Caro's Delicatessen. You could call it a black comedy about cannibalism, a dark fantasy or a plainly eccentric comic. To be frank I find that however I try to simplify what it does I find endless qualifications, extra adverbs and adjectives but above all a sense of missing the mark in my definition.

A concoction of characterful and charming monsters, dangerous fools and human folly contained within the confines of farce. That was the best I could come up with, but then the long forgotten word "original" popped into my head.
Delicatessen is original as it is a rather pure example of film. You see it isn't a narrative as the story is nothing more than situations strung together, and then managed in and out of each sketch's orbit. This could give the impression of rambling or self-indulgence but that would ignore the coherence of the visual and the rather marvellous and delightfully absurd resolution.

Set in a retro and rather grey future, we meet the mascot of French oddball films, Dominique Pinon, who takes a job as a caretaker in the tenement of landlord and unscrupulous butcher, Clapet. No sooner is Pinon fixing lights and mending the tenants rooms than he has fallen for goggly eyed Julie, Clapet's daughter. The hungry tenants eye up the nourishment they hope the new caretaker will provide and the butcher keeps his cleaver very very sharp.

The joy of Delicatessen is in its parts. You delight in the care taken in drawing individual characters like the vamp, the suicidal tenant and the gloriously molelike Troglodytes who plot revolution from the sewers. These caricatures operate beautifully as individual cartoon strips and provide much in the way of novel entertainment and gentle-ish absurdism.
Like Jeunet's later Amelie there is a feeling of a selection of doodles held together for convenience by an odd romanticism. This spirit allows for a tone that can marry cannibalism with romantic comedy, although it doesn't quite resolve the many paradoxes into one whole work. In fact when plot appears it is often as an unwelcome visitor in the midst of the delicious chaos around it.

On his own, Jeunet would bring greater narrative coherence and emotional depth to his later film, but I find myself tempted to believe that the greater lightness of his individual work indicates that Caro brought the darker emphasis to their collaborations, and personally I miss that element when viewing Micmacs or Amelie.
The truly exceptional cinematography of Darius Khondji and Caro's design make Delicatessen a feast for the eyes that seems almost tactile in its texture and sensation. The wonderful faces, the dampness, the darkness - few films are such full sensory experiences.

Undaunted by sentiment and alternatively dismal and delightful, Delicatessen is a one off well worth a second serving.

Technical Specs

Released as part of the Studio Canal collection, this is a full HD progressive transfer encoded in AVC/MPEG4. Only 70% of this region AB coded disc is used up and the filesize for the film itself is 23.1 GB. The materials seem to be of two qualities with the greater amount of the transfer looking very good indeed with excellent black levels, detail and colour balance. A great minority of the transfer is less impressive and the quality reminded me of contrast boosted DVDs where lighter sequences show heavy grain. Summarising, the overall visual quality is somewhere between good and very good.

German and Spanish master audio mixes complement the original French track which is lossless stereo surround also. The lack of extra dimension in the rear channels is no obvious loss to my ears and this mix offers plenty in the way of atmosphere for the sewers and the bedsits, and the low frequencies are well represented across the track as well. Dialogue does occasionally come from the rear, effects are well managed across the range of channels and the optional English subtitles are well translated even if this isn't the easiest of fonts to read. Interestingly the commentary is also a master audio track.

Special Features

Jeunet does the commentary on his own as he explains that Caro doesn't like such tracks. He talks with great affection about the film and his and Caro's "expensive" ideas. He explains his advice to the actors including a Friedkin like moment with an unexpected slap coming his female lead's way. There's some interesting detail around how he worked with Khondji and even a few nerdy moments where he points out continuity errors.

A lot of the extra material here is encoded at 480I and all of the audio on the extras is standard definition. The menu itself, prefaced by a long promo for the rest of the Studio-canal collection, is hi-def and easy to use.

There are two documentaries on the film itself. A short making of simply spools together footage of the film's shooting and a much more interesting piece involves original cast and film-makers looking back on the film. This longer piece is much more satisfying with plenty from the two directors on their own work and much about the struggle to get the project funded and made. The claims about the film starting a new new wave of French film seem a little extravagant, but this is a rather nice addition to this release overall.

A teaser and a trailer complete the package.

Summary

A welcome release of an original and rather pure film will please many of us unhappy at previous standard definition releases.

Film
8 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
6 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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