It is the near future and the world is suffering a food shortage and general malaise has taken over the citizens of this city. One man, however, is keen to continue the work he thoroughly enjoys, as he is local butcher Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), providing meat for the denizens of the apartment block his shop is situated below. However, the way he goes about it is, shall we say, unconventional, as the handyman he had employed recently discovered. In a bid to escape, he dressed himself in paper and hid in a bin, but the butcher was too clever for him and planted his cleaver in the man's head...
Yes, the special meat that Clapet supplies to his customers is human flesh, but don't go thinking this is yet another bloodsoaked cannibal movie, as there was something altogether more charming going on here. After making a selection of shorts, writers and directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet were planning their magnum opus, The City of Lost Children, but that proved too expensive to shoot for a debut feature and they fell back on a film that could be made far more cheaply. As with many innovative first time filmmakers, they relied heavily on their imagination to catch the attention of audiences, and in this case they sustained it.
Therefore while this may be a low budget movie, the appearance of it has been so intricately designed it took on a look of its own, attractive to those who found the more eccentric worlds that cinema can produce all the more appealing. Certainly here is a cityscape you can believe in even though the story takes place entirely in one building - all right, and in the drains below it, but Caro and Jeunet crafted a variety of locations to be held within this single crumbling edifice. One thing they did not have such a strong handle on was their storytelling, as if they had spent so much time on their artistry that the actual plot was allowed to get away from them.
Yet that was a problem only if you were not caught up in those images, as you could easily reach the end without noticing that you were none too sure about what precisely had happened during the previous ninety minutes. All that need bother you was the plight of new arrival Louison (Dominique Pinon in one of his signature roles), a sad clown who is taking a break from the circus now that his partner, a chimpanzee named Livingstone, has been killed and eaten by a group of the starving masses. He ends up as the new handyman for the building, but Clapet is planning on turning him into cuts of meat - just as his shortsighted daughter, Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) falls for this poor soul.
The irony being that Louison would be far more useful to everyone, both as entertainer and as odd job man, if he were allowed to live, but the avaricious and materialistic Clapet cannot see it that way: all he views him to be is a walking carcass to be carved and sold. Notably, Louison is a vegetarian, so this, as with the near-contemporary Parents, could be seen as an anti-meat-eating horror film told in a delightfully quirky manner, with this going even further in the stylish stakes. There is a sense that Caro and Jeunet had a wealth of ideas and crammed them all into one package regardless of how undisciplined their narrative was, but that discipline was applied to their invention, from the suicidal woman who fails at every attempt to the guerilla vegtarians living under the ground, no matter that their helpfulness to the finished film might have you questioning what you've just seen. Yet that could be missing the point, which was to laugh and marvel at something enchanting purely presented for your pleasure. Music by Carlos D'Alessio.