ENTERTAINMENT FILM DISTRIBUTORS (1995)
Directors: Marc Caro / Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring: Ron Perlman, Judith Vittet, Daniel Emilfork, Dominique Pinon, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Geneviève Brunet, Odile Mallet, Mireille Mossé, Serge Merlin, François Hadji-Lazaro
Rufus, Ticky Holgado, Jean-Louis Trintignant
The City of Lost Children is a stylized look at an odd post-apocalyptic world where children are being taken from the streets, orphans are more mature than the adults around them, and a group of clones work for a mad scientist trying to find out what it’s like to dream. From Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who also made Delicatessen (1991), this film is darkly funny at times while being extremely thought-provoking. I was able to attend a screening at the Polk Museum of Art for an event put on by my Alma Mater, Florida Southern College. It was cool just getting to see this film on a big screen, but getting to participate in a discussion afterwards made it all the more memorable.
The film opens with an odd dream sequence using a wavering fish-eyed visual that distorts various parts of the frame. A young child sees Santa Claus come down the chimney and present him a windup toy. The scene feels very happy and exciting at first, but quickly turns nightmarish as more and more Santa’s appear and begin to terrify the child. He grabs his Teddy Bear, and suddenly we’re snapped back to a room where Krank (Daniel Emilfork) is screaming. The various clones in the room - all played by Dominique Pinon - begin screaming, and a horrid symphony erupts, destroying various pieces of glass in the room until Uncle Irvin (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a brain in an aquarium, calms them all down. It’s a powerful opening sequence that establishes the surreal world the rest of the film will take place in.
As the film pulls out from the odd scene and into the other part of the world, we meet One (Ron Perlman). He’s a strongman for a sideshow, living with the ringleader and his little brother Denree (Joseph Lucien). This odd religious group of Cyclops, blind men who have been gifted with a technologically based third eye and enhanced hearing, are collecting young children. They set their eye on Denree and rip him from One, who barely escapes alive with the assistance of Miette (Judith Vittet) and some of her orphaned friends. These kids do the bidding of siamese twins called The Octopus (Geneviève Brunet and Odile Mallet), who use orphans to steal for them.
The film takes off from there, as One and Miette form a bond that really allows for Perlman to give one of his best performances. His character, while large and strong, is very much a child intellectually. This is juxtaposed by Miette, who comes across like an adult woman who has become cynical after seeing too many evils. Their relationship is powerful, and creates much of the film’s pathos.
The beauty of seeing this film the way I was able to is getting to discuss the many possible interpretations it offers its audiences. There are themes dealing with identity, innocence of children, religion, creation, and, in a fairly self-reflective way, art. It would be hard to dive into any one of these in much detail here without spoiling the film. While there is more to this film than the plot, Jeunet and Caro have crafted such a unique story that it would be a shame to take away the experience from a new viewer.
The City of Lost Children is a unique piece of cinema that definitely is worth any real film lover’s time. Pinon and Perlman both give outstanding performances alongside a very competent cast. While I still think Amélie is Jeunet’s masterpiece, you can see so many of those touches that craft that film being developed here. It’s still hard to understand how he’s made three incredible films...and also Alien: Resurrection. Nevertheless, The City of Lost Children is a Must See film.