“La charcuterie” is the French word for Deli or delicatessen but not in the sense that most Americans think of. Instead of hand rolls, fresh salads, and rotisserie style chicken, it strictly sells cold cuts and sandwiches. The Delicatessen in the movie of the same name is none of these things and would promptly be shut down within minutes upon the arrival of a health inspector. But alas, that doesn’t happen either, as the government and society has succumb to an unseen catastrophe setting up the semi-apocalyptic world (yet the post is still going).
It’s odd that the film makers would choose to call a butcher shop or “la boucherie” a Delicatessen since that too would be considered a completely different store. But as this seems to be the only surviving building on the street, perhaps the owner decided to consolidate. The butcher isn’t serving meat from a pig, a cow, or a chicken though. He cuts up unsuspecting tenants who either step outside their rooms at night or trying to escape even as garbage. He then services the meat to the other tenants who are in on the scheme with payment of grains, the only thing left to serve as monetary value.
The tenants are very much an eccentric variety. Newcomer Louison is a former carnie who does odd jobs around the apartment in exchange for room and board but also carries with him the uniform of his dear chimp Livingstone. Julie, the daughter of the butcher, is a quiet girl that falls in love with Louison but is disgusted by her father’s control over the building. There are the Tapicoas, Marcel, a con man trying to provide for his family, his unhappy wife, their two mischievous boys, and the grandma who is so far gone she needs to wear a string of knickknacks so she can be found. There’s the Mademoiselle Plusse, a dame sleeping with the butcher (who is about twice her age) for her own gain and protection. In another room are two brothers who put together nose makers. There is another couple in the floor above, only with the wife hearing voices that convince her to take her life (although unsuccessfully) and way down in the basement is a frog man who has flooded the floor and eats snails all day. This most colorful of neighbors I’ve seen in an ensemble; it reminds me of the tenants in Arnold’s house of “Hey Arnold!” and much crazier than those in Coraline.
At one time or another, most of the cast seems to wear something red. This can signify the blood of the victims the tenants depend on to survive or the daily violence they are exposed to in their lives. In fact, Julie doesn’t wear a red dress until the end of the movie when her life is in mortal danger. The costume and style of the movie carries with it a 1950s or 1960s vibe, the height of the Cold War between the US and the USSR that worried many would led to nuclear fallout. The tenants still rely on black and white TVs as color TVs wouldn’t be mast produced until the 1960s. Adding to this era, are the Troglodytes or Trogs, the underground society living in the sewers that Julie bargains with her father’s grains for the safety of Louison. Such “mole people” have appeared in movies before such as the 1956 movie The Mole People, the Underminers that appeared at the end of the Incredibles, and the geologist Mole from Atlantis the Lost Empire, who is also French.
Social morals have seemed to have dissipated as well: there’s one scene where the kids are testing out a lit cigarette. Louison promptly catches them and turns their attention to soap bubbles but such a scene would’ve sent children advocates into a tizzy today. Suicide and mental health aren’t taken with such severity either; many of the tenants know that one of their neighbors is trying to kill herself but they don’t do anything to stop it. Her attempts are meant to be funny but as someone who has been tasked with watching someone else on suicide watch the humor didn’t hit as high. The characters do what many in TV and movies still do today which is breaking rule #1: NEVER LEAVE A PERSON WHO IS SUICIDAL ALONE! That being said, it turns out that the voice in the woman’s head are coming from one of the many pipes in the house caused by a devious neighbor but the woman dies anyway when her husband hits a light switch in the apartment when the gas is left on, causing a fire.
Speaking of the pipe system, it’s in need of a serious overhaul, as it echoes sound throughout every apartment of the building. A small sound such as the squeaking of an old bed spring can subconsciously sync up every person in the building but equally throw them out of sync to disastrous yet comical results. This also serves as a mean to spy on people throughout the house, to make sure they are asleep or make them think they are hearing voices. I have seen similar room connecting techniques in the Kira Knightly Pride and Prejudice movie but that was with a camera taking out continuous shot through the house. (I’ve also seen it elsewhere but I can’t think of a movie right now…)
The bratty kids, the unsuccessful attempts at suicide, and the plumbing system are part of the director’s and writer’s take on dark humor or black comedy. It usually takes a morbid or taboo subject matter and make it funny, which can be controversial. As stated before, I did not find the suicide attempts as funny as some of my other classmates but the clever trick with the worn bed spring and the rest of the house was on point.
Finally, attention should be payed to the atmosphere. For most of the story a yellow haze covers the sky, either pollution or a chemical attack that has crippled agriculture production. It’s the color of mustard, possibly an allusion to mustard gas that killed many men in the trenches of World War I. But by the end of the movie after the antagonist is defeated, the sky begins to clear and Louison and Julie are on the roof playing their preferred instruments.
This movie was very interesting and entertaining and it’s a shame many people take little interest in foreign films, particularly French ones. I’m going to recommend this one to a few people as it’s on Netflix and they might enjoy the dark humor a little bit better than I can.