Strange Cinema: Delicatessen (1991)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Delicatessen (1991)
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeanet & Marc Caro
Starring: Dominique Pinon, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, & Karin Viard

What’s it about?
In post-apocalyptic France, a landlord (who is also a butcher) occasionally prepares a delicacy for his tenants. It’s not until the arrival of a new tenant that the order in the building begins to deteriorate.

Is it any good?
This film’s style seemed so familiar to me, and it wasn’t until I started researching it that I found out it was an homage to my favorite director, Terry Gilliam. The easiest way to my heart is through a Terry Gilliam film, and although Delicatessen isn’t directed by the Monty Python alum, it very well could have been. Jean-Pierre Jeanet and Marc Caro do a fantastic job of giving such dark subject matter a whimsical twist.

Delicatessen explores a post-apocalyptic world in which food and money are scarce. Instead of showing the entire world as poverty-stricken, Jeanet and Caro only show the audience a microcosm of that world. We only see the apartment building, but with all the attention to detail and all the eccentric characters, it feels like an entire village rather than just one building.

The strongest part of this film is the ensemble. Each character is so well-developed in such a short amount of time it’s mind-boggling. Even the crazy old man in the basement has his own unique quirks and he doesn’t even have that much screen time. The character of Louison is so likable, and so is Julie. By the end, you’re rooting for their romance, and that’s a sign of a well-written script and even better acting.

The whimsical atmosphere kind of offsets the fact that this film is essentially about cannibalism. The butcher/landlord lures new tenants into his building and kills them so he can sell the meat to his other tenants. That sounds like good material for a horror film, but Delicatessen makes it seem like a magical adventure (where people die in horrific ways). The Gilliam inspiration is pretty obvious. There are eccentric characters, dark humor, and almost cartoonish camerawork. What a great homage.

This is one of the only films I’ve seen on the list so far that I can’t find much fault with. It’s not a flawless film, but it’s pretty close. I would have liked to see more of the directors’ original style in it rather than just the Gilliam aspects, but since I’m so into Gilliam’s work, I didn’t mind it as much. Delicatessen is definitely one of the best films on the weird movie list thus far.

Grade: A (for likable characters and a perfect Terry Gilliam vibe)
Weirdness Score: 7.5/10 (or, weird enough to make cannibalism seem like a personality quirk)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

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