Short Ends and Leader

Variety Meats Offered Up In 'Delicatessen' (Blu-ray)

Delicatessen may have a deeper meaning as a social commentary or a serio-comic allusion, but the true nature of this beast is how magnificent Jeunet and Caro's visions meld and coexist.


Delicatessen

Rated: R
Director: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cast: Pascal Benezech, Dominique Pinon, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Karin Viard
Studio: Studio Canal
Year: 1991
Distributor: Lionsgate
Release Date: 2010-09-14

At first, it seems like a lot of little disconnected elements fused together, a twee combination of eccentricities and events that play like a fairy tale flailing in the boiling brain of one of the fevered Brothers Grimm. The rules of this weird dystopian society struggle to be understood, from the obsessive fascination with food (including the use of corn as a commodity) and the post-nuclear haze to the Luddite like vegetarian resistance movement known as the "Troglodistes".

In between, we meet ex-circus clowns, smoking school kids, blustery busybodies, inventors, and a man living in his own personal frog legs/escargot factory. Together they form a smorgasbord of unusual pieces -- a Delicatessen of demented delights -- finally brought into focus by the brilliance of artists/directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. As a benchmark for its creative duo, a team that would go on to craft the equally brilliant City of Lost Children, this cracked cautionary tale offers us an iconoclastic glimpse into man's inhumanity to man.

The story centers on a butcher named Mr. Clapet who runs a dilapidated apartment building in the middle of a post-apocalyptic France. Sustenance is scarce, but our hulking brute always seems to have some groceries on hand. Using his tenets as a meat "source" and selling his wares to the rest of the residents, he is a despotic bully. His nearsighted daughter, Julie, puts up with his work, knowing that the world outside her home is far more dangerous

. When an unemployed entertainer named Louison moves in, after answering an ad placed by Mr. Clapet, he looks like the next bit of "inventory" in the fiend's food stocks. But with Julie's help, and the aid of some unusual resistance fighters, our meat grinder's days as a murderous dictator may be numbered.

In his insightful commentary track for the film (now on Blu-ray, though the discussion dates from 2001) Jeunet makes it very clear that his movies start out as a ragtag bunch of wistful visions. They are ideas cooked up by himself and frequent collaborator Caro, that are then fused together much like a filmic Frankenstein by some diabolical cinematic mad scientists. In the case of Delicatessen, the duo had the main theme for ages, working on it off and on while they toiled away in animation and advertising.

As their producer worked long and hard to secure financing for this first film, Jeunet and Caro continuing retrofitting their flashes of genius into logically sound sequences. The most difficult bit came toward the end, when ambitions and imagination hit budgetary limits and F/X possibilities to shape the final product. It required the duo to rethink and improvise, putting their skills as first timers to the test.

So no matter how magical it all seems, what is clear is that something like Delicatessen is an insanely complex combination of potential and the pragmatic. Even within its own subtext, it argues for the way things might turn out in a world gone surreptitiously cannibal against what is essentially a French fried Aesop's fable. From the opening credits which scan a junk yard, each crew name being matched to an item that represents their job on the film, to a mid-act sight gag involving some squeaky bed springs, a rug duster, and a direct homage to Buster Keaton, the hodgepodge nature of this amazing work symbolizes the special relationship between its makers. Delicatessen may have a deeper meaning as a social commentary or a serio-comic allusion (indeed, there definitely seems to be a surreal eco-friendly feel to the entire project), but the true nature of this beast is how magnificent Jeunet and Caro's visions meld and coexist.

There is a delicate, almost artisan nature to the look of the film (achieved, according to the director, by a painstaking celluloid process that was light years ahead of the new digital color desaturation), a way of looking at things that speaks volumes without relying on reams of dialogue or pages of exposition. Faces are just as important to Jeunet and Caro as facts, and all throughout the film are examples of their persona-oriented approach. In actuality, such future constants as Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Rufus, Tricky Holgado, and mainstay Dominique Pinon all got their start here, and with good reason. They become caricatures of the already cartoon people they play, easy to identify types that Jeunet and Caro can them goof around with and manipulate. There is a silent film function to their casting, a way of making sense out of mere images and ideas without totally telegraphing everything to the audience.

Similarly, their baroque approach to design, framing and composition suggests the Great Masters, or more contemporary, the carefully constructed tableaus of the Coen Brothers. Shots are not wasted, sequences spin into themselves on waves of wondermint dream logic. Like kids in a candy store, Jeunet and Caro constantly shoot for the most sweet and sublime. They also add touches of the sinister and the subversive to keep things from getting too cloying or cruel.

As time has passed, it's clear that much of the darker dimension here was brought in by Caro. With him, Jeunet made the almost Dickensonian City of Lost Children. Without him, he made the much sunnier Amelie, A Very Long Engagement, and Micmacs. Delicatessen, however, is where the germ of their joint efforts would take seed and sprout. It's the announcement of individuals ready to throw convention to the wind and work under their own eccentric muse.

As for the movie itself, it's spry and mischievous, loaded with good humor and even greater heart. Its self-styled insularity (done on purpose for one simple reason: money) treats us to a look at a universe where nothing seems real and yet everything clicks with a meaningful, mechanical precision. Wildly entertaining but never openly obvious in its many strengths, it's a flower with apparently mismatched petals that open to reveal the most mystical blossom imaginable.

While they would both go on to surpass this opening salvo in their soon to be legendary mythos, it's the surprising nature of Delicatessen that truly cemented their considerable cult. At first, it's kind of a mess. By the end, it's nothing short of a masterpiece.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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