In a dilapidated apartment building in post-apocalyptic France, food is in short supply and grain is used as currency. On the ground floor is a butcher's shop, run by the landlord, Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), who posts job opportunities in the Hard Times paper as means to lure victims to the building, whom he murders and butchers as a cheap source of meat to sell to his tenants.
Following the "departure" of the last worker, unemployed circus clown Louison (Dominique Pinon) applies for the vacant position. During his routine maintenance, he befriends Clapet's daughter, Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac), a relationship which slowly blossoms into romance. Louison proves to be a superb worker with a spectacular trick knife and the butcher is reluctant to off him too quickly. During this time several of the tenants fall under Louison's boyish charms, worrying others who are more anxious for their own safety should they require meat. Aware of her father's motives, Julie descends into the sewers to make contact with the feared Troglodistes, a vegetarian sub-group of French rebels, whom she persuades to help rescue Louison.
During the apparent butchering of an old woman, the Troglodistes attack but are repelled, and Clapet, with the unsympathetic tenants, storms Louison's room in an attempt to murder him. Louison and Julie resist by flooding themselves, floor to ceiling, in an upper floor bathroom until Clapet opens the door releasing the flood and washing the attackers away. Clapet returns with Louison's knife and inadvertently kills himself. Louison and Julie play music together on the roof of the now peaceful apartment building.Dominique Pinon as Louison
Marie-Laure Dougnac as Julie Clapet
Jean-Claude Dreyfus as Clapet
Karin Viard as Mademoiselle Plusse
Ticky Holgado as Marcel Tapioca
Edith Ker as Grandmother
Rufus as Robert Kube
Jacques Mathou as Roger
Howard Vernon as Frog Man
Marc Caro as Fox
The original American trailer for the film simply presented the comic "squeaky spring" sequence in full. The sequence depicts a montage of the butcher-landlord making love to his mistress on a noisy bed, while the rest of the building's tenants perform activities (painting ceilings, knitting, playing the cello, assembling animal calls) at an increasing pace, with the squeaks from the bedsprings dictating the tempo. The trailer ended with the butcher climaxing, each tenant's activity ending (rather violently) and then a sudden cut to the title logo and the 'swinging pig' emblem from the film's opening credits.
On the UK Region 2 DVD released by Momentum Pictures, the soundtrack is available in four languages. These are French, German, Spanish and Italian.
The film was received well critically. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave it 88% from a total of 41 reviews, and that of Metacritic gave it 66 out of 100 out of a total of 17 reviews. Variety called it "a zany little film that's a startling and clever debut", while Empire called it "[a] fair bet for cultdom, a lot more likeable than its subject matter suggests, and simply essential viewing for vegetarians". Not all reviews were positive, however, with The New York Times saying "its last half-hour is devoted chiefly to letting the characters wreck the sets, and quite literally becomes a washout when the bathtub overflows."
The film has won and been nominated for several important European awards. At the César Awards it won Best Editing, Best Debut, Best Production Design and Best Writing, at the European Film Awards it won Best Set Design, at Fantasporto the Audience Jury Award, at the Guild of German Art House Cinemas Best Foreign Film, at Sitges Best Actor, Best Director, Best Original Soundtrack and the Prize of Catalan Screenwriter's Critic and Writer's Association. At the Tokyo International Film Festival, it won the Gold Award. The film was nominated for the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics. It also received nominations for those award ceremonies as well as for the BAFTAs.