After achieving cult success with surreal post-apocalyptic comedy Delicatessen, directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro got to work on fantasy epic The City of Lost Children, available now on Blu-ray.
The film’s most distinctive character is its villain – Krank, a scientist whose inability to dream has accelerated his aging. In order to save himself, he’s been kidnapping local children and stealing their dreams. And then he makes the clumsy mistake of taking the kid whose big brother is Ron Perlman. Perlman plays circus strongman One, who sets out on a quest to get his bro back, somehow teaming up with orphan Miette along the way.
The most striking thing about The City of Lost Children is how amazing it looks. Between Darius Khondji’s cinematography, Jean Rabasse’s production design, and Jean-Paul Gaultier’s costumes, Jeunet and Caro’s team have created an engrossing expressionist artwork. The winding, semi-futuristic, semi-Victorian city brings to mind Metropolis; the collection of odd characters, including ‘Uncle Irvin’, a brain in a tank who speaks through gramophones, resemble Terry Gilliam at his most off-the-wall; and the journey to Krank’s ocean lab, surrounded in vibrant green fog, is very much inspired by the imagination of Jules Verne.
Jeunet and Caro populate this stunning world with a dreamlike variety of weird and wonderful characters and whimsical goings-on. The gang of orphans are ordered around by a pair of conjoined twins called the Octopus, a sort of eight-limbed Fagin who runs a school to teach them how to thieve – but by the time we get to this point, nothing can come as a surprise any more. A real highlight, which shows off the film’s laid-back approach to storytelling, is One and Miette being saved from a near-death situation by a butterfly effect-esque series of events; a flying droplet startles a dog, which angers a tramp, causing a bird to fly off and poo on a car, which crashes into … and so on, until you end with an enormous boat crash. Throw away your need for things to make sense and there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had.
The problem is that, with everything so whimsical, the story feels rather slight. Whereas Gilliam, for example, uses surrealism to great satirical effect, Jeunet and Caro’s story is a simple fairy tale, and not much more, while One and Miette’s growing bond is not entirely convincing – it shows up far too often that these two heroes are the least interesting characters in the film.
So, The City of Lost Children may not have a particularly affecting narrative, but visually it’s a masterpiece. Let yourself get carried away by the whimsy and beauty of its world.
Special Features: Featurette / Interviews with Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Jean-Paul Gautier / Commentary / Trailers
THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (1995) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JEAN-PIERRE JEUNET, MARC CARO / SCREENPLAY: GILLES ADRIEN, JEAN-PIERRE JEUNET, MARC CARO / STARRING: RON PERLMAN, DANIEL EMILFORK, JUDITH VITTET / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 14TH