French cinema at its goofiest and dazzling level.
I really passion the bizarre and wacky humor and visual world of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a French filmmaker, who provides us some of the best features in his careers. “Delicatessen,” “The City of Lost Children,” and “Amelie” are the ones I choose to dish on, because they all possess magic of foreign cinema. Something to check out during this Corona crisis.
Made in 1991, it takes place in post-apocalyptic France, where meat is so limited, that the local butcher (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) murders people and sells their body parts of the public. Then arrives a circus performer named Louison (Dominique Pinon), who arrives looking for work. Little does he know that he’s next on the menu, and the only person who tries to warn him is the butcher’s near-sighted daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac).
What I love most about “Delicatessen” is its visual world and organized situations, which are placed at the right time. For example, there’s a scene when the butcher makes love to his girlfriend on his squeaky bed, the performer is painting the ceiling with his elastic suspenders, a woman beats out the rug, a man pumps air in his bike, and the daughter plays the cello.
There’s also an old man (Howard Vernon), who lives in a flooded room with frogs and snails, and you can hear all the croaking, and see his slimy meals. It’s so beautifully designed with a gross complexity that makes it attractive.
But the very best scene to me is when Louison and Julie must hide in the bathroom from their killers, and they must take off their clothes to clog all the drains to flood the bathroom. This was before that sequence in “The Shape of Water,” and I just love gazing at the way the scene is built, the way it floods, and the way it all pays off.
And the actors (Pinon, Dreyfus, and Dougnac) are all wickedly delightful with their own intentions and ambitions. They’re drawn like clowns. In fact, one of them is a clown, so it works out well. And I’ll never forget that how that one woman (Silvie Laguna) tries and fails to kill herself. And even if she has everything poisonous thing she needs to die, her plans still get thwarted by fate.
With help from co-director Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet delivers a delicious masterpiece.
“The City of Lost Children”
The next collaboration of Jeunet and Caro stars Ron Perlman (speaking French) as a strong man, whose adopted little brother (because he found him in the trash can) gets kidnapped by an old man (the late Daniel Emilfork), who can’t dream, and ergo, ages at an accelerated rate. So, he kidnaps children to try to steal their dreams. And the strong man, named One, teams up with a little girl named Miette (Judith Vittet) to find his brother before it’s too late.
The movie’s bad guys also consist of a pair of Siamese twins (Geneviève Brunet and Odile Mallet), who are so connected to each other, that when one of them smokes, the other one puffs it out. Dominique Pinon plays all the clones, who are the old man’s henchmen, and find themselves in one wacky situation after another. And their uncle is a brain in a vat which can see with a folding camera panning from left to right, and delivers a personal truth to his experimented nephews.
“The City of Lost Children” has a gloomy feel that gives off a special vibe to the movie. I love the art direction and design of the city with its canal and run-down apartments, and especially the oil rig and villain’s lair. Everything in the movie looks fascinating, and I love anything with rivers and oceans.
The performances from Perlman, Emilfork, and Vittet are all beautiful and passionate. They each have an emotional depth, and give their characters life. You really care for them and their troubles, and they’re placed in the right scenery.
This wasn’t really popular in the mid-90s, but’s it’s something worth seeing again and again. I’ll never forget this entry from Jeunet and Caro.
This one began Jeunet’s solo career, and became one of the most popular French movies of the century. “Amelie” was a hit that nominated 5 Oscars for Best Writing (Guillaume Laurant and Jean-Pierre Jeunet), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Foreign Language Film. And it also helped Audrey Tautou get more recognition, before her roles in “The Da-Vinci Code,” “Dirty Pretty Things,” and “A Very Long Engagement.” Just don’t see her in “The Jesus Rolls,” by the way. See her in this, because she is magical.
She plays Amelie, who decides to help good people in her life, starting with a middle-aged man, who lost his box of possessions in the 1950s, and is delighted at its return. And she also falls for a quirky man (Matthieu Kassovitz), who is seen digging under a Photo Booth, and uses all her tricks to sweep him off his feet.
The movie gives the character an eccentric personality and imagination, because she’s passionate and determined, while having imaginary friends, including a lamp pig, who turns off her light. But really, Tautou is given a feminine character, who doesn’t succumb to the harshness of reality, and allows her to be funny and strong at the same time. And her love story with Kassovitz is old-fashioned and whimsical at the same time.
Jeunet has delivered another tour-du-force masterwork, and according to what I have seen, it deserved to be a hit and an Oscar contender. He uses all of his tricks and wizardry to bring to life the characters, fantasies, and realities, and splices them together on a balanced plane.
Juenet also went on to make other films like “Alien Resurrection,” “A Very Long Engagement,” and “Micmacs,” but “Delicatessen,” “The City of Lost Children,” and Amelie” are my three favorites among his filmography. They’re visually stunning, wickedly funny, and undeniably charming in their own weird, but unique ways. And given our Corona nightmare, they’re sure to aid you in your time of social distancing and staying home.