In this essay, I will be deconstructing the film Delicatessen, 1991. I will briefly be deconstructing on the film’s cinematography, mise-en-scene and sound. But I will mainly be discussing and deconstructing the film’s themes and messages. And what do those represent with the film and they show demonstrate meaning. Further, how the themes and messages of the entirety of the film help create a symbolic illustration of each characters and settings involved.
When I was watching this film, I realised that it is a multi-stranded narrative. Add to narrative by opening up more space (F.Dick, 2005: 56). I noticed it, when I witnessed on screen that it follows more than one character and narrative. Many multiple-focus narratives involve multiple plots (Altman, 2008: 241). The film follows the narrative to the characters of The Butcher, Louison and The Butcher’s daughter Julie. The reason that this is effective is because each narrative serves its own purpose on how it will resolute in the end. The Butcher is the villain, Lousion is the hero and Julie is the hero’s lover. Narrative competence holds our significations in place to give them an order and a thrust (Dudley, 1984: 76). Also, this specifies that each character has its own purpose for the narrative and development of each character. This helps us as the audience while we see the film to understand what each of the character’s purpose is towards the film’s narrative. So, they can help make the characters relatable towards the audience through the development of each character.
While I was watching this film, I understood just how much the film completely subverted conventions with the use of cinematography. This being because the film is filled with canted or dutch camera angles. The original purpose of a canted angle is to help build the suspense. Whereas in this film, it is used in dialogue scenes. There are instances, however, where we want the visual tension of this off-level condition to work for us to create anxiety, paranoia, subjugation or mystery (Brown, 2011 :66). It subverts conventions because those scenes don’t even build suspense. They are natural conversation scenes which delves within a character or a scene. For example, the introduction of Lousion is presented in a canted angle. There are no suspense in the scene, just an introduction of this character. It is illustrated as a style rather than an actual purpose. This is interlinked with the mise-en-scene.
The mise-en-scene used throughout the film is actually strange. This is again similar to the cinematography, that the film subverts the genre conventions. For one thing, the film includes a comedic aspect despite including dark thematic plots involving cannibalism. The mis en scene connoted and denoted narratives of societal alienation and emotional isolation (De Valk, 2013: 11). This is signifying that The Butcher has knives as his main props to establish him as a dangerous man. And that he is a threat to others as the people who live in the same building as him are afraid of his existence. Whereas Lousion is wearing tremendously bright colours for his clothing. This proposes that he is a good and respectable person: he is a bright human being, because we see it through the colours he wears on his clothing. The colour and their clothing represent their personality successfully. This way we can witness who is good and who is bad. This also comes in how he is represented visually.
The visual style of the film includes strong amounts of the colour yellow. Colour is a natural ingredient of visual reality (Lehman, 1990: 62). The yellow establishes the comedic value of the film since the genre of the film is comedy. The colour correction and grading is heavily yellow all throughout the film except for one scene at the end. That scene being the fight scene between The Butcher and Louison. The colour of the film seems to be looking green. This gives the isolation of the film. “Colour is an important expressive element for film-makers, and is often mobilised by means of costume, which has the advantage of a direct association with a particular character” (Gibbs: 2002, 8). The colour green gives the sinister look of the scene. It is successful because The Butcher is trying commit a sinister act by attempting to murder Louison. That is the idea of which the director is portraying on the film. The director has established many thematic and symbolic messages throughout the film even through the characters.
The characters in the film establish a symbolic representation. The film includes a protagonist and an antagonist. The protagonist being Lousion and the antagonist, The Butcher. The butcher is portrayed as a powerful figure than Lousion. This is because he is mostly portrayed at a low angle shot. A low angle shot makes the subject appear larger than it actually is (F. Dick, 2005: 53). He overthrows Lousion throughout by stating that he is no harm, where in fact The Butcher is a danger to everyone in the film.
The Butcher is illustrated as The Devil running the place. A monster derived from the horror genre (Austin, 1996: 137). Whereas Lousion is established as the angel who is here to save them. This is conforming to the idea of including visual metaphors. The ability of images to convey a meaning in addition to their straightforward reality (Brown, 2011 :68). Even when they do the establishing shot of the setting. When it is night time, the film’s colour gives this sepia look of it. Makes it appear like it is a metaphor of hell. Expressionist lighting, nocturnal effects and ubiquitous vapour clouds (Austin, 1996: 137).
This is where the theory by Laura Mulvey comes in. Laura Mulvey’s theory of “visual pleasure” for instance, is based on the assumption that the male protagonist of a film provides a vehicle for identification on the part of the male spectator (Mayne, 1993: 26). So, as a spectator watching the film, we get a brief understanding that Lousion is similar to any other male. The theory is stating that Lousion is heavily relatable to mature males. We know this as in the film, it requires him to perform a circus act. So, we know that he has a full time job and that he is caring and loving as well. We know that he is a caring person, when he tries to save those children from that evil postman with the gun. This giving the indication again that he is the angel sent from somewhere in order to save the people from the devil himself known as The Butcher. Louison is the typical good guy. As he is shown blowing big bubble towards children. An act of his day job which is a circus clown. The bubbles are symbolising he is an really soft person. And that he can be easily be broken.
After the butcher’s death, everything seems to be quiet and pleasant. The film’s ending textures close to heaven due to the fact that the devil known as the butcher has been killed. Ultimately, after a climax involving fire, flood and mayhem, the butcher is killed, and Julie and Stan are rescued by the underground, allowing them to start a new life together ( Austin, 1996: 137). This establishes that the water washes down the fire and creates peace for everyone. The water establishes angel washing down the devil and cleansing him from the people.
The sound is used extremely effective throughout the film. The score is blended from the diegetic sound that is used by the characters. Sequence of sound gags in which the bed springs squeaking under the butcher and his wife set off an orgasmic crescendo of noises throughout the building (Austin, 1996: 137). This demonstrates that the use of diegetic sound are a metaphor of something occurring on screen. One example being with the sound of the squeaking beds illustrating the sex scene. This scene gives the humorous effect of the film, because once it reaches the ending, it add this sound effect which is similar to a man reaching to the end.
The sound is effective especially in the diegetic sound. The use of diegetic sound effects such as a saw and help creating a music score is very unique. This is giving the poetic value and reminding us that the film is still a comedy. Environmental sounds recur throughout the film and, indeed, provide an introduction to the rural context in which the narrative begins, with insect sounds, water, frogs (etc.) preceding the visual track onto the screen (Coyle, 2010: 165). It provides some sort of a musical score by using props such as a saw. The characters help create a musical score that makes it instrumental and smooth. This suggests that the film is providing that it is the same stuff occurring for the characters on a different day. This could possibly mean that they are used to their daily habits, that each stuff they do becomes a musical score.
The theme of danger is visually portrayed on screen throughout the film. For example, with the old lady who has a red string ball that rolls all over the staircase. And as she is trying to wrap it all up, it leads to the butcher himself. Makes clear, renewal is difficult to sustain and can verge upon the grotesque (Hayward, 1993: 254). This illustrates that the colour red has given a warning that danger is coming and the danger of course being The Butcher. It is these enigmas that is presented in the film that helps create it very metaphoric as well. The colour red on the string is illustrating the colour of the danger and the warning of the presence of The Butcher.
The Butcher’s clothing are always dirty and includes hints of blood as well. This is giving the metaphoric message that the butcher hands are dirty. Giving the impression that he is a sinister person who has a dark side within him. The menacing figure of the butcher in his bloody apron and the raspy echo of his cleaver being sharpened throughout the building (F.McGrath, 2012: 11). He represents himself to other people as this menacing boss. But, he is more than that, as we see him killing and eating human flesh.
There is also the use of pathetic fallacy involved throughout. Pathetic fallacy is portrayed effectively by using the weather to match the character’s emotions. Pathetic fallacy, elevated to a very system of response (Hart, 2013 :31). One being the thunder rumbling sound effect towards the end of the film. This gives the illustration that Louision is in danger as The Butcher tries to murder him. And the thunder rumbling is giving the indication that Lousion is afraid of The Butcher and the thunder is alerting him that danger is heading his way.
Another effective use of pathetic fallacy is the sewer leakage with the old man and his frogs towards the end of the film. The water leaking is clarifying that something bad is about to transpire. That ends up being the sewer exploding and water discharges all over the place. It is messages like these that creates this film a strong and unique category. This is due to the fact that the film includes frequent amounts of enigma codes that establish what the film’s message is for each scene.
For example, the scene where The Butcher dies from his own hands: this is giving the metaphoric message that crime doesn’t pay. Serve to act as metaphor to denote and convey a deeper narrative meaning (De Valk, 2013 : 10). For all the sins and crimes he commits throughout the film ends up revolving on him. This is because he attempts to throw a knife at Louision, but it wings back to him like a boomerang and follows to his instant death.
The film does establish the characters from the rich versus poor class. Every fictional film likewise relies on some substratum of spectator understanding of the type of world that becomes the subject of the film (Dudley, 1984: 45). For example, there is one scene where the postman is trying to deliver a package. Then the kids living at the building attempt to steal it, but the postman has a gun and advises to give the package back. This gives the suggestion that even the postman is more commanding than the people living in the building. Struggling or a poor character whose circumstances ultimately determine the outcome of the story (Lovell and Sergi, 2009: 14). He is classed as a right hand man to the Butcher. This is because we see him discussing about Julie and also revealing who Lousion really is. Revealing that Lousion works for the circus.
Religion has been represented in the film in a successful way. This is so we can get a realisation of the film’s messages that are shown on the screen. ‘Dominant or significant’ is determined with reference to aspects of film narrative (Wright, 2003: 19 and 20). The scene towards the end, where Louison floods the bathroom and it bursts out and flooding the place. The water is rapidly waving towards the villainous people. This is a metaphor on cleaning the sins of the place. Cleansing the inappropriate people from the world, so they can be punished for their sins. The punishment being that the massive amounts of water heading towards them.
Overall, Delicatessen, 1991, is the perfect example of depicting religion on film. We have the devil who is the butcher and the angel who is Louision. The use of dutch camera angle helping to illustrate the film’s desolated look; portraying that the people living in the people are slaves to the devil known as The Butcher. Furthermore, that Louision is the angel who was like the one who is supposed to save them. The use of ambient sounds help creating this unique type of score illustrates that they are used to their daily actions. The film is unique just how it subvert conventions with the usage of dutch camera angles on dialogue scenes rather than suspenseful scenes. The film’s overall message is that the evil should not control the power of the good, because the evil will in the end get what they deserved.
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