Delicatessen (1991) is a quirky film that uses music and sound to draw the audience into its world and detract from the horrors of its plot. What else explains how a film the prominently features cannibalism can be so funny and charming? The soundtrack itself is eclectic, featuring such unique timbres as accordion, musical saw, and crooning vocals. This is no surprise since one of its directors, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, has made a career of setting quirky plots to unique music and sound design.
There are a number of scenes that illustrate how music and sound design soften the grotesque aspects of the plot (c.f. the musical saw and cello duo); however, the “Tika Tika Walk” scene stands out for highlighting dance over its other unique aspects, mainly rhythm and timbre. Luison demonstrates his three-legged dance to Mademoiselle Plousse while she flirtatiously dances and shakes the maracas.
As one of many instances in the film that features music that is loosely based in Latin rhythms, this one stands out for the way its subtly highlights foreignness alongside grotesque humor. This helps to fuel jealous tension between the romantic leads: Luison and Julie. She sees the flirtation, and Luison’s three-legged outfit highlight both his appeal to the residents of the building and his inability to immediately qualm her insecurities. The rhythm is an intentionally ham-handed interpretation and transformation of another song with a similar title, “Tico Tico no Fubá,” the most internationally famous example of choro. What is that instrument? And why is the rhythm so simplistic? Compare “Tika Tika Walk” with a richly textured performance “Tico Tico no Fubá”:
The composer for this film, Carlos D’Alessio, also utilizes Brazilian rhythms in the music for the film’s credits. In both of these cases, only those listeners aware of the specificities of Brazilian musical content would recognize it.* (It is no surprise that choro keeps appearing in French films – Paris and Rio de Janeiro have had a close cultural affinity for one another for over a century.** Further, Parisian audiences were an important part of choro and samba‘s international spread in the 1930s.) Apart from that, these examples of transformed Latin music highlight the ways that the characters in a post-apocalyptic apartment complex haunted by cannibalism and botched suicide attempts are finding joy in a situation that would be unimaginable. It’s a creative statement both on the world of the film and the full extent of music’s globalization.
* Full disclosure: I have seen this film many times, and I only began to hear the Brazilian content in the last two years.
** The cultural exchanges between Paris and Rio de Janeiro are well documented. For two good discussions, see Hermano Vianna’s The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music and National Identity in Brazil and Ruy Castro’s Rio de Janeiro: Carnival Under Fire.