Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: The City of Lost Children (1995)

Director: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Juenet
Starring: Ron Perlman, Judith Vittet, Daniel Emilfork

The City of Lost Children was nothing less than a total acid trip from beginning to end. Starting off with a surprising and shocking scene involving multiple Santa Clauses, the film establishes right away that it will not be a ‘normal’ venture…I mean, look at this first scene. It’s just…eh, let me show you:

After that mind-fuck of epic proportions, the movie evolves into a rollicking, colorful sci-fi adventure with a ton of creativity albeit the very, very little sense being made. I think the fact that this was in French created more confusion, as I probably missed a few things in translation, even with the subtitles. But that's not to say this isn't good. There are a few moments in the first half hour or so, like right after that Santa scene, where you get all these weird little clone-guys screaming simultaneously…and it’s pretty much unbearable. But the movie improves, and throughout the film even the most non-French speaking individuals will be able to follow the story pretty well.

The story, about a mad scientist who kidnaps children to steal their dreams and make him eternally young, is told with vibrancy and energy, and it becomes a lot of fun even when you don't know what's going on. The directing, with all its strange, alien colors and architecture, is just splendid. It’s really like nothing you’ve ever seen before, as it looks like some sort of steampunk world, if it was crossed with a 1930s gangster environment. Like there’s this one scene in a bar that just overflows with scenery that looks like a hybrid between Once Upon a Time in America and The Fifth Element. That’s just so weird I can hardly take it. But it works. It really, really works.

The characters are all really good, too. I surprisingly found myself really drawn into them – in fact, I’d say they were the main reason I kept watching the film. The lead is oddly named One, played by Ron Perlman, who is a simpleminded circus strongman who is pretty much the kindest soul you’ll ever meet. You don’t get a whole lot of backstory about him (or any of the characters, really), but it’s implied that he’s a protector of the weak and helpless. He protects his younger brother, who has been kidnapped by the mad scientists, and he protects young, tough-as-nails orphan Miette (Judith Vittet) for most of the movie, too, calling her his little sister. Miette doesn’t show a lot of outward emotion but feels for One in his simple, emotional quest to save his loved one, and helps out accordingly, breaking away from her friends in the orphanage and the oppressive (and really odd) pair of conjoined twins that domineer over them all. These two characters are just really enjoyable to watch, and the simple emotional arc they are a part of is sweet, involving and captivating. They’re helping each other. That’s as pure and simple as it gets.

There’s also Krank, who is the leader of the Cyclops, the group of strange mad scientist/soldier types who was apparently a little child who was aged prematurely by the ‘original’…who has been shrouded in mystery. He wants to steal the childrens’ dreams to become young and stop himself from decaying completely. He talks to this odd brain thing in a test tube that seems to know everything, and eventually leads them to the ‘original,’ who lives in a submarine under the sea. But not a pineapple under the sea. That would be going too far even for this movie.

These Cyclops guys are grown up children who weren’t given a chance to have a real childhood, because, well…they’re clones of some freak scientist who now lives in a submarine. To gain back their childhood, they have to take it away from other children, so really, nobody wins. The Cyclops are victims, too. They’ve been created against their will – they didn’t have any part of it. There is a tragic undertone to all of this, if you can believe that after seeing some of the images this movie throws at you. But that's really part of the movie's genius. I did end up buying the 

Add into this whole thing a plotline about the conjoined twins trying to kill One and Miette to get back some gold they apparently stole, and this becomes a right jam-packed epic. There’s always something going on on screen, and the film never becomes boring. This works because the atmosphere is dreamlike and surreal, and it runs deep to the movie’s core. This is an authentic work of art that is quirky, silly, morose and pensive all at once. If you like movies that entertain on a bit of a higher echelon, The City of Lost Children will deliver fully. I want to watch this again someday and I think I'll notice new things and perhaps gain a new understanding of it. This is just one of those movies that really caught my attention, and that's why I'm sharing it with you all.

None of these images are mine and I take no credit for any of them.