Louison wanders into the story as a drifting part time clown, looking for work, he finds a job and a place to live with Clapet, the neighbourhood butcher and black market kingpin. Here he meets the collection of oddball characters who inhabit the dank tenement block owned by the butcher - characters who really defy description - and, more importantly, falls in love with Clapet's myopic daughter Julie (Dougnac).
It soon transpires that Louison has been employed more as a future addition to the tenants stews than as a hard worker, and when he encounters the vegetarian freedom fighters (who inhabit the sewers) and is pulled into their war against the meat eaters then things really begin to heat up.
Visually the film is an absolute feast - following City Of Lost Children and Jeunet's recent Amelie, we know what to expect - it's decidedly like a Terry Gilliam film, without being plagiaristic. The set colours and the lighting are sumptuously grubby, and are flooded with the greens, reds and yellows so favoured by the directors. The acting is exemplary, and never before has a subtitled film flowed so well - you really don't notice that you're reading at all after the first few minutes. Pinon has always had great screen presence, from his role as a hapless thug in Diva, to his role as a comedic pusher in the full-length three hour release of Betty Blue (his scene was cut from the normal version of the film, sadly), but finally with this role he was given a real chance to shine, and grasped it gratefully. Also, casting him as a romantic lead was a real sign of genius - as you wouldn't automatically think of him in this way. I mean, the man actually looks like Robin Williams playing Popeye - naturally - with no make-up, or contorted facial expressions.
The film's plot is imaginative, but fairly basic, and it's really the characters, the fact that the storyline regularly performs U-turns and pirouettes, and some of the set pieces (lots of which have since been ripped off by other lesser films, and for ideas in commercials), which make it such an unforgettable experience. It is moving, it is inspiring, it is exciting, it is highly imaginative, it is really, really funny, and above all else it is magical. The final 20 minutes, in particular, soars to such incredible heights that it leaves the viewer wide-mouthed with awe.
If you haven't seen Delicatessen by now, then make it your business to see it soon. In fact, go out and buy it - it's one of those films that are an investment to own, as I promise you, you'll return to it time and time again. Oh, and keep an eye out for the special edition which also features the very funny short film, Foutaises.