Comedy doesn’t get much darker than “Delicatessen,” the delightful bad-taste debut of “Amelie” director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (made in collaboration with Marc Caro). In the not-so-distant future when food is scarce, a forlorn clown moves into an apartment building where the downstairs butcher is murdering his tenants for meat. Long overdue on DVD, the cult fave comes garnished with rehearsal footage, a bizarro behind-the-scenes montage and French-language commentary from Jeunet — the perfect side dishes for such a twisted main course.
Jeunet freely credits his many influences, from old Buster Keaton gags to the original “Alien,” but his sheer originality is evident throughout. A meticulous visual stylist, he casts his actors for their faces (including the wonderfully expressive Dominique Pinon) and stages elaborate dialogue-free routines . The best example, an orchestra that begins with squeaking mattress springs and escalates to involve everyone in the building, shows Jeunet and Caro’s devious wit at its sharpest.
According to Jeunet, after seeing the pic, French screen legend Jacques Prevert wrote a complimentary postcard in which he warned, “The hardest thing for you now will be to keep it simple.” Sure enough, the duo’s very next project, the masterfully macabre “City of Lost Children,” was France’s most expensive ever, and Jeunet’s dynamism earned him big-budget Hollywood work as well (next up: “Life of Pi”), making this intricate curiosity a rare treat indeed.