REVIEW: DVD Release: The City Of Lost Children

Film: The City Of Lost Children
Release date: 30th April 2007
Certificate: 15
Running time: 108 mins
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro
Starring: Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Daniel Emilfork, Judith Vittet
Genre: Adventure/Comedy/Drama/Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Studio: Optimum
Format: DVD
Country: France/Germany/Spain

Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro are names well known among lovers of foreign art cinema, and this fame is justified by the prestige and quality their films boast. Together, they created the beautifully bleak Delicatessen in 1991, which told the tale of a post-apocalyptic world of beastly butchers and underground groups with vigour. Their next film after Delicatessan was La Cite Des Enfants Perdu, known as The City Of Lost Children in English, which was released in 1995, and entered into that year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Like the more recent Hollywood blockbuster Inception, The City Of Lost Children is a story about dreams, and, as with Inception, the story is sometimes confusing yet always intriguing. Krank (Daniel Emilfork), an artificially-created mad scientist resembling a live-action version of Mr. Burns, has found himself aging far too quickly, and realises this is because he does not have the ability to dream. To remedy this, he captures children from a nearby dystopian city to extract their dreams, even if, at the moment, he can only extract their nightmares.

One of these children is the younger brother of a slow-witted circus strongman called One (Ron Perlman in his first major film role). After failing to save his sibling from being seized by the Cyclops’, One finds a group of young orphans who steal for a pair of Siamese twins known as The Octopus (Genevieve Brunet and Odile Malet). One befriends one of these children, a girl named Miette (Judith Vittet), and they work together to find One’s little brother, while trying to evade the Octopus and Krank’s aids…

While the film itself may not be appropriate for children, the story may at first seem like the type of thing one would expect from a children’s movie. The childlikeness of the story works in the film’s favour, as the contrast between this and the more disturbing elements, like the misshapen machinery and devilish cults, help the film achieve a fantastical quality appropriate for a story revolving around dreams. That contrast is superbly highlighted in the film’s opening scene, where a festive scene of a child meeting Santa comes undone when more Santas arrive - these more devious and wicked, as the screen distorts and warps.

What also helps the film’s dreamlike quality is its visual motifs, creating a world that is surreal yet believable. The majority of the scenes are bathed in a diseased yellow, filling the scenes with a sick light that still allows for plenty of shadows. The titular city is a grisly metropolis filled with filthy, twisted buildings and framed by a sea of slime, and Krank’s quarters are a grim mixture of an old submarine and the typical mad scientist laboratory. A lot of imagination has gone into the creation of this film, and the visuals show it.

Sadly, however, at times, it feels like too much imagination has been used, which leads to ridiculous scenes like One and Miette being tied up in a cartoonish amount of rope, and how a single tear from Miette’s eye sets off a chain reaction that ends up saving her from a brainwashed One. Most of the time, the lack of realism works for the film and its theme, but scenes like these tend to distract from the story rather than add to it. At least the special effects used to create them look good, save for some false-looking fleas.

Of special note is the film’s soundtrack, created by constant David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. The score of the film perfectly accentuates what is happening on screen, especially the haunting tones it produces during the story’s more solemn, emotional moments. There is also effective use made of the lack of music in some scenes as well - a scene with the Octopus is accompanied by only the ticking of a clock to sinister effect. The theme song of the film, sung by Marianne Faithfull, is also a beautifully performed, yet melancholy piece - a perfect summary of the story.

It is not just the sets and music that make The City Of Lost Children come alive, for what would this hellish city be without its hellish citizens? Ron Perlman is generally serviceable as One, but still less than impressive. The character he is portraying may not be all that intelligent, but scenes like his tantrum at losing his little brother, and the obligatory loud ‘No!’ he screams after believing Miette to be dead make it hard to take him seriously. Judith Vittet, however, is perfectly cast as One’s aid, bringing the role a good amount of cynicism and seriousness, yet with some compassion as well. Daniel Emilfork crafts the greatest performance as Krank, bringing a truly cruel and vicious villain, yet also creating some sympathy for the character in the vein of Edward Scissorhands. The children of the film are effective and never annoying - both actresses playing the Octopus complement each other and bring an air of stern villainy, and Krank’s assistants – his ‘brothers’, a female dwarf and a living brain – are fine accompaniments for the villain.

The City Of Lost Children may not be for everyone; those seeking realism and a plot that is simple to follow may not enjoy it. Some elements of the film may be ridiculous, but it is, on the whole, a well-made film with fine acting and set design, which is beautiful because it is so ugly. GB

1 comment:

  1. ive been meaning to see this and delicatessen for an age. absolutely loved both amelie and micmacs and ive heard this is better than both