Delicatessen (1991)
May 22, 2015, 12:53 pm
Filed under: film review | Tags: , , , , , , ,


Delicatessen (1991)
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro

Jean-Pierre Jeunet tapped into the nerve of the mainstream with Amelie. The easy-listening of French cinema. But before this, he worked with collaborator Marc Caro. Together they put out two surrealist, Gilliam-esque, dystopian black-comedies. The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen.

Delicatessen is a hard film to categorise. Sci-Fi? Horror? Comedy? It’s all and none of them at the same time. At it’s heart though, it is a love story set in a dystopia where food is sparse.

Louison is a circus clown who takes up the job of local handyman after the last disappears. He moves into an apartment above the delicatessen. Here he falls in love with the butcher’s daughter.

It doesn’t take long for the truth to come out. The reason the butcher is so rich in meat in a world where food is rare? And the reason the last handy-man disappeared? The strings tie together.

This conceit is a simple bare-bones structure. It serves to hold together a cast of bizarre characters. The way they interact with each other in this post-apocalypse carnival world. That is the real charm of the film.

Jeunet has an unparalleled cinematic style in all his films. A style that he cultivated here. And it’s clear that the character’s are characters of heart. They are ripped from the pages of children’s books. These are the inventions of Jeunet. They carry forward into all his future excursions.

But Caro brings a head to the film. He brings a surreal, dream sci-fi that isn’t seen in any of Jeunet’s solo work (and it is missed).  It’s the collaboration of this heart and head that makes Delicatessen work. It’s not crucial that the film is set in this desolate garbage-world. But it adds to the film’s style in a way that separates it from the film it could have been.

Jeunet and Caro make their best work together. Delicatessen is part of the minuscule body of  work that proves that.

Under the Skin (2013)
May 21, 2015, 10:29 am
Filed under: film review | Tags: , , , , , , ,


Under the Skin (2013)
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

It’s finally time to talk about Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. A science-fiction road trip through Scotland. Told from the perspective of an alien in the skin of a human woman. Laura is a predator, driving a white van around the streets of Scotland. She seduces men by showing only the vaguest interest in them. In return they follow her into a dark nightmare.

Science-fiction. But Under the Skin is a film about real people.

It all hinges first on the girl. Laura. Scarlett Johansson. A Hollywood face in disguise, dropped into the realms of Scottish civilisation. Filmed with hidden cameras. Interacting with real people. True reactions.

Even the opening sequence reflects the dual nature of the film. In the context of the story, we hear Laura practicing her dialogue. She makes vowel sounds and practices the way words form in her mouth. But this is actually a recording of Johansson practicing her dialect for the role. It’s a clever idea, reflecting the nature of the film as a form of method acting.

The first half of the film is sparse of exposition. We follow Laura on her road trip, in her interactions, ensnaring men. She lures them back to a derelict house. Inside is only a dark abyss; a haunting abstract plane. The men descend into this darkness. Willing to do so as they are so captivated by this siren. And something invisible in the darkness pulls the meat from under their skin. Leaving only a hollow shell behind.

The film indulges itself in letting this half of the film play out in slow pace. It is slow because we have to witness the length of time that Laura allows humanity to impact upon her. She is not human. This is never more clear than a particular beach scene. It is a gut-wrenching emotional play that she witnesses, and is completely indifferent to. But over time, the effects of humanity do seep in under the skin. There is no galvanising moment of realisation. It is a slow process.

Yet there is a galvanising moment that shifts the focus of the film. We find a narrative in the second half. As Laura finds a twinkling of humanity, the perspective turns. She experiences the world not from the perspective of a predator, but as the prey. She finds herself in an unfamiliar abyss (a deep forest). She experiences the dark, predatory nature of the human in the film’s climax.

Under the Skin is bold. It is clever. It is beautiful. It provokes thought. It pulls the viewer out of their comfort zone. Jonathan Glazer has made a film that realises his cinematic vision. A guerrilla documentary on the nature of people. The cinematography and soundtrack are haunting. And Scarlett Johansson is ethereal as Laura.


A personal note: While watching the film I was unsure. It took time to fall into it. But when the closing credits rolled, my mouth was agape and I sat for a while in the dark just to catch my breath. The more I think about and talk about this film, the more it becomes one of my favourites. It’s hard to put these kinds of emotions into a review without it becoming too masturbatory. But I wanted to add this short note to say this film had quite a profound effect on me.