Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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Film Review: Delicatessen (1991)

Aug 12 2011 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

Poster for Delicatessen (1991)

Delicatessen (1991) is the next film in my recent foray into free Hulu films.

Unlike the previous films in this category, it is neither a documentary, nor a film that you can watch for free, as its run on Hulu expired just hours after I finished watching it.

Rather, Delicatessen is a delightful foreign film (French to be exact) that I knew I had to see. I wasn’t expecting much from it, but was pleasantly surprised that it was a delight to watch.

Two caveats before I launch into a more detailed review:

  1. The dialogue in the film is entirely French. Subtitles were included in the version I watched (and, having a basic knowledge of French myself, I will say it was an above-average translation). Although subtitles are distracting for many viewers, I felt they were okay in this film, because there is relatively little dialogue and the images are well crafted and carry the story good enough that the viewer will not be constantly distracted by the words onscreen.
  2. Like many films from the French cinema, this film takes a much more artistic approach than your typical Hollywood-produced blockbuster. This might be troublesome for some viewers as the relative lack of dialogue, slower pace, and sometimes seemingly random plot points may lose some people. For those who like artistic, stylized films, this is a plus.

Delicatessen (1991) follows the story of a former traveling circus performer as he moves into an apartment above a butcher’s shop. The butcher allows him living arrangements in exchange for his services as a handyman.

The setting is a not-so-futuristic, dystopian society where meat has become so rare it is used as a form of currency. This means that murders are committed for meat, which can then be eaten or used as currency.

Without getting into spoilers, twists ensue as the hero discovers that the other residents are all somewhat crazy, save the butcher’s daughter who, much to the butcher’s dismay, quickly falls deeply in love with the handyman.

The rest of the film recounts their efforts to save each other and live happily. Random plot twists ensue as, to evade the strange owner and tenants, the butcher’s daughter enlists even stranger help from deep below the city behind her father’s back.

This film really shines because of its superb pacing and visuals. From the very first opening sequence, the action starts out at a slow pace, but is highly suspenseful, certainly leaving the viewer to wonder “what happens next?” as the characters and setting are introduced throughout the first half of the picture. As the film progresses, the pace quickens, climaxing in a large, crazy action scene spanning multiple locations and groups of characters intercut with each other. As a result, the film is masterfully edited overall.

The second strength is in the visuals, which is intriguing given the limited locations in the film. Most of it happens within the apartment complex and butcher shop, with only a handful of exterior scenes and brief forays into the sewers beneath the city. Even in the exteriors, the world seems to be covered in a thick, eery fog that does not allow us to see much beyond the building. This stylization of the exteriors, as well as the unique golden color grade of the entire film is, in fact, one of the keys to the look of this picture.

Despite the lack of large sweeping exterior shots, or other hallmarks of the average Hollywood blockbuster, the cinematography shines in the not-so-spacious interiors on the set of this film. Creative camera angles and excellent shot composition are what really tell the story, keep the viewer engaged, and make this film a success.

As a side note, the story and stylized nature of Delicatessen (1991) reminded me in many ways of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! (2001), which is another artsy film that I greatly enjoyed.

In fact, it’s hard to remember at times that Ewan McGregor is not the actor playing the main character in Delicatessen!

As you can tell, I highly recommend this film to anyone who can bring themselves to watch a subtitled film (or who speaks fluent French). Overall, it is a wonderful picture.

8/10 Stars

Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.

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