The movie opens with a butcher named Clapet, the owner of the titular delicatessen, sharpening his knives menacingly. It then pans to a different room, where a jittery, wide-eyed young man nervously covers himself in old newspapers. This unfortunate man has found out that he is about to become food for the other dwellers in the apartment complex above the deli. He conceals himself in newspaper so he can escape in the trash, but he needs to hurry- the garbage man is here. As you can probably guess, the man never makes it to the garbage truck. This opening scene is one of my favorites in the movie, perfectly setting the mood and look of the film, as well as serving as a great introduction to the character of Clapet.
After the opening kill, the real story begins. A new tenant named Louison arrives, looking for work and a roof over his head. He is responding to an ad requesting someone to do odd jobs around the building. Clapet immediately sizes Louison up, revealing to the audience that the ad was created to lure a new main course for the butcher to prepare. Louison is a short, waifish, funny looking man, a former circus performer back before it all went south. Eventually, he meets the butcher’s daughter Julie, a bookish, clumsy, and bespectacled young woman who plays the cello and wants to be a painter. Julie disapproves greatly of her father’s “profession”, and eventually she and Louison begin an awkward, tentative relationship, further complicating her relationship with Clapet, knowing full well what Louison’s intended fate is. She later learns that there is an underground group known as the “troglodytes”, who live in the sewers. She goes to them to ask their help in sneaking Loison out of the building. At first they refuse, but then they learn that their main source of food, corn, is used by Clapet as currency, therefore making the complex full of the stuff. This leads to a climax so strange it makes the rest of the movie seem downright normal (I won’t list out what happens, so as to avoid spoilers). There are also several subplots in the movie, including one concerning a particularly insane tenant’s increasingly odd, Rube Goldberg-esque attempts at suicide, the last attempt being Darwin Award worthy.
I like this movie, though it is far from perfect. Though I enjoyed the homages to Gilliam’s early work, it often tries too hard to be either Brazil or Time Bandits, though it lacks the former’s biting social satire, and the latter’s whimsical charm. That being said, Caro and Jeunet’s hero-worship of the former Python pays off for the most part. It’s a truly wonderful film to look at, with fantastically demented set pieces and a yellow-sepia filter that gives it a look that is years ahead of its time. So for all its flaws, Delicatessen is a hell of a lot of fun to watch if you, like me, are an unabashed fan of demented black comedy. I highly recommend this movie to someone looking for a creative flick with an insane, messed up streak about it.