Whether or not you’re resistant to the whimsy of Amélie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s ’90s prime cuts Delicatessen and The City Of Lost Children – created with co-director Marc Caro – remain dark, savoury classics, steeped in their own idiosyncratic, dystopian vibes and reeking with gamey charm.
Pairing these two twisted fairytales, however, does serve to point up Delicatessen as J & C’s macabre masterpiece, from its famous bedspring symphony to the climactic toilet-seat tussle. This sweetly bizarre story of a maintenance man’s forbidden love among cannibal chumps and eccentric neighbours, encased in a post-apocalyptic apartment block, has a slender conceit. But it’s gloriously animated rather than flattened by the duo’s Gothic visuals. Conversely, The City Of Lost Children’s gorgeous, grimmer-than- Grimm fantasy yarn loses its focus and feeling periodically under the film’s crushing weight of design and invention.
Jeunet’s wry, rueful audio commentary is peppered with regrets (he has a list of everything that didn’t work) but is also full of kudos for the film’s peerless performances from regular Dominique Pinon, clowning as six cloned brothers and Ron Perlman (Hellboy)’s tender circus strongman.
And, as the lavish Making Ofs underline, The City Of Lost Children holds Jeunet and Caro’s most complex and creative parallel universe. With Delicatessen – as well as their 1981 short Bunker Of The Last Gunshots, included here – it provides a stalls seat in their unique “cinema of the imagination”. Roll up…