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Movie of the Day: Delicatessen

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What Is It?

In a future plagued by meat shortages, a landlord/butcher (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) finds a utilitarian, if morally dubious, workaround by turning his tenants into flank steaks. His plan hits a snag when an unemployed clown (Dominique Pinon) moves in and begins to court the butcher’s daughter (Marie-Laure Dougnac).

What’s Cool About It?

Leave it to the French to make a lighthearted romantic comedy about postapocalyptic cannibals before it was trendy. Delicatessen creates a whimsical tone in a dark story via quirky humor, circus tricks and Rube Goldberg machines. To put it another way, if Wes Anderson drank ayahuasca for a month, this is probably the type of film he would direct. Directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro also turn vegetarians into a class of militant rebel heroes who resemble one of the forgotten tribes in the Mad Max universe.

This Movie’s Old Enough to Vote and Buy Cigarettes. Is It Relevant Today?

Thanks to climate change, the future of Delicatessen is probably closer than we think. In general, consuming less meat is probably a benefit for the planet, and this movie makes a compelling case through comedy. Interestingly, Gaspar Noe, the enfant terrible of French film, had a similarly twisted view of the butcher profession in 1991 when he released his short Carne, so perhaps anxiety over mad cow disease was running rampant at the time. Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro made another dark sci-fi comedy, The City of Lost Children, before ending their creative partnership over Jeunet’s decision to direct Alien: Resurrection. To be fair, the Alien series had been a directors’ franchise to this point, and Jeunet probably imagined a Hollywood career similar to that of fellow idiosyncratic visionary Guillermo del Toro; instead, Jeunet returned to France to make the film that American audiences probably best know him for, Amelie. Is that ironic? Probably not. However, this movie made a bizarre entrance into the Oscar debate last year when Jeunet actually accused del Toro of plagiarizing a scene from Delicatessen for The Shape of Water. Did GDT subliminally rip off JPJ and MC? Or was he simply paying homage, the way many directors do?

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