forward to having a little meat on their tables.
Making use of their background in animation, a medium where they controlled every element of the production, J eunet and Caro meticulously designed and planned every sequence. What looks like a sophisticated studio set-up was in fact an abandoned building, where for the paltry sum of $4 million they built from scratch all but one of the amazing sets. Only'the later scenes in the underground sewers were shot on location.
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing
about this cannibalistic comedy is that it succeeds in being scary and grotesque without ever becoming tasteless. This, the two French film-makers explain, was precisely the point: ‘It would have been a lot easier to make a very gory film, but for us the challenge was to treat the subject of cannibalism without ever spilling over into overt horror. And also to do it as a comedy.’ The film comes closest to macabre bad taste when the suicidal Madame lnterligator constructs elaborate, Heath Robinson-style contraptions in an attempt to effect her own demise. Even here, though, Jeunet and Caro strike just the right black comic note: ‘Sometimes when we were shooting something like the angled shot ofthe rope leading to the gun, I did think, “Where are we?”. But during the first screening, you could feel the build-up to the laugh and you knew that it had worked.’
Long-time collaborators, J eunet and Caro wrote, designed and directed Delicatessen together, but they insist that their partnership is not so much ‘schizophrenic’ as ‘stereophonic’. For me, however, the difficulty of interviewing the two of them together is compounded by the fact that the only comprehendible sounds are emanating from a third speaker, the translator. This prompts a brief discussion of sub-titles, because although Delicatessen is primarily visual, Jeunet and Caro also delight in the comic subtleties of language.
They are pleased to discover, for example, that an inspired sub-titler has captured the spirit, if not the letter, of their intent with the phrase: ‘I’m a butcher, but I don’t mince words’ — an innacurate but imaginative translation. ‘We were really trying to be careful about everything,’ says Jeunet, ‘we didn’t want to gloss over any aspect of the film. Everything had to be good: the
A cannibalistic comedy which succeeds in being scary and grotesque without ever becoming tasteless.
colours, the actors, the camerawork, the dialogue, everything. We used a lot of old French expressions that go with the set and the costumes; the accents, too, are quite old fashioned. We thought that a lot ofthe expressions would inevitably be betrayed in translation, but that’s a very good one.’
Although the film’s storyline is straightforward, it is so crammed with memorable scenes that one is constantly distracted from its simplicity. In particular, the concerto of household noises, in which the tenants pick up the tempo of
Madameoiselle Plusse’s squeaking bed—springs — beating the carpet, pumping up a bicycle tyre , or playing a violin — in time with her ardent lover’s rhythmic thrustings. Later in the film, the lubricious Mlle Plusse calls Louison in to check her squeaky springs and they test them by bouncing up and down in time to some Hawaiian music. It is a magical scene, but its delicate tone was not easy to achieve.
‘There was a problem withthat scene actually, in rehearsals it wasn’t working. There was something illogical about the relationship between Louison and Mlle Plusse. In the first version of the script, Mlle Plusse was sort of making a pass at Louison, but we wanted it to be a little more innocent. So we had the idea of using some music to soften the scene a little, and we thought of having them move in a particular way. So we tried it at home, on the sofa, and we saw that it could possibly work. It took a whole day because it was very difficult to work out the rhythm but, as you see, it worked.’
Having struggled for three years to raise the finance for Delicatessen , J eunet and Caro have been inundated with offers since the success of the film. There are currently revising an earlier, a more ambitious script based on European fairy tales, and it was even suggested that they might re-make Delicatessen in English: ‘That was a possibility at one point, but we felt that the story isn’t strong enough. Even so, they were prepared to buy the re-make rights for our next film, which isn’t even written yet.’
Delicatessen opens at the Cameo in Edinburgh on 14 Feb and at the Glasgow Film Theatre on I 6 Feb.
The List 31 January - 13 February 1992 7