In many of the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories I have read or seen, the main theme not only warns the viewers of what might be, but also how society adapts itself to new world-rules. Delicatessen, by Jean-Jeunet and Marc Caro, is very similar to modern post-apocalyptic films today and may even be one of the major shapers of the genre’s current structure. There is a premise of some big catastrophe that has lead up to the current (usually ruinous) state of society with rules and practices that are new to the viewer for which the protagonist must question and eventually overcome.
The downfall of our current society is hinted throughout the film as a lack of food or because of some environmental inability to sustain enough commercial crops or animals to eat [if it was explicitly explained, I wouldn’t know; I can’t read French]. To alleviate this “lacking”, the residents within the apartment building where our story is set [and most of France] have turned to selective cannibalism, and the non-people eaters have become rare and survive underground. In the beginning of the movie, the protagonist enters the building not knowing that he is on the menu and eventually ends up in a struggle for his life. Along the way, we also see the toll the current situation puts on both the main character and the rest of the apartment’s occupants.
To counter the dark imagery of cannibalism, suicide, and basic human survival within the film, the creators interwove tidbits of humor into their ugly world with skillful cinematography, scoring, and editing throughout its duration. A perfect example of this balance would be the first two scenes where the “trashcan man” is trying to escape…but from what?
In between the escape process and close-ups of his panicked eyes, we see the butcher sharpening his knives with a building, screeching accompaniment until the final “chop” of the knife after our first protagonist is found. My favorite part is that the editors immediately cut to the next day where everyone is buying meat from the same butcher [hmm… wonder what kind], adding a flavor of disturbing comedy to offset the gruesome situation.
Despite the depressing nature of the theme and its borderline disturbing scenes, it was a charming film and I sincerely enjoyed watching it. The story was intriguing and wrapped up neatly, the integration of music and edits were clever and humorous, and [spoiler] the protagonist didn’t get eaten. Overall, Delicatessen was a decent film that I wouldn’t mind watching again.