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  City of Lost Children, The sweet dreams, mes enfants
Year: 1995
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro
Stars: Ron Perlman, Daniel Emilfork, Judith Vittet, Dominique Pinon, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Genevieve Brunet, Odile Mallet, Mireille Mosse, Joseph Lucien, Serge Merlin, Francois Hadji-Lazaro, Rufus, Ticky Holgado, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Marc Caro
Genre: Comedy, Science Fiction, Weirdo, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  9 (from 5 votes)
Review: One of the great weirdo-epics of modern times, The City of Lost Children is a dazzling treat for young and old. In a strange world that is either the far-flung future or a retro-Fifties fantasyland, ageing, mad genius Krank (Daniel Emilfork) tries to rejuvenate himself by stealing the dreams of children. Childlike, circus strongman One (Ron Perlman) is horrified when his ever-hungry little brother (Joseph Lucien) becomes the latest tyke abducted by a cult of evil one-eyed cyborgs and sets out to find him. Joining his quest is a beautiful, brave little girl called Miette (Judith Vittet), leader of a gang of child thieves, who is on the run from Siamese twin crime bosses, the Octopus (Genevieve Brunet and Odile Malet). A perilous trail leads to adventures involving killer fleas, a gaggle of clones (all played by an amazing Dominique Pinon), a mysterious deep-sea diver, and Irvin the friendly, talking brain in a jar (French film icon, Jean-Louis Trintignant!), before Miette heroically enters the world of dreams for a showdown with Krank…

Jeunet and Caro’s fantastical follow-up to Delicatessen (1990) overflows with surreal wit and wondrous visual invention. From Darius Khondji’s deliciously baroque cinematography, to Jean-Paul Gaultier’s retro-chic fairytale costumes and the amazing, quasi-futuristic/steampunk sets, the whole movie has been designed to evoke childhood terrors. Told entirely from a child’s point of view, this is a gloomy world of bilious fog and sneaky shadows, monster buildings and looming grotesques, but also miraculous escapes, whimsical humour straight out of old French cartoons, and a plucky, spirited, Little Red Riding Hood-style heroine. It’s a world many have imagined as kids overdosed on bedtime stories, but never expected to see at the movies.

Upon release the film fell foul of French critics dismissive of effects-driven cinema and American reviewers who decried a lack of heart. Both claims are completely untrue. Much has been said about the filmmakers’ debt to Terry Gilliam, but their poetic flair and unique ability to adore all their characters, no matter how vile, outranks his casual cynicism. Krank is a sad and lonely miscreant dreaming of being human. The clones’ desperate search to uncover their ‘original’ is laced with slapstick pathos. Wise, old Irvin delivers a stirring soliloquy on the true nature of humanity. The great, big heart at the centre of this outlandish adventure is the touching friendship that blossoms between One and Miette. Very similar to the one between outsized kid Jean Reno and woman-child Natalie Portman in Leon (1995). Ron Perlman is wonderful as the hulking, sensitive, monosyllabic One and Judith Vittet is an astonishing, little actress (in, regrettably, her only film appearance) who completely runs away with the movie’s final twenty minutes. Really, what many critics failed to see was The City of Lost Children is less an example of “cinema-de-look”, than a techno-charged return to Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante, with its dreamy world of ports and boats charmed by the warmth of its leading players, and a passionate, haunting finale.

Two magical set-pieces have become the stuff of cinema legend. The first begins with One poisoned by the bite of a magic flea and compelled by the organ-grinder’s (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) playing to strangle Miette. A tear falls from her eye onto a spider’s web and sets off a jaw-dropping series of miraculous events. The second sees Miette sacrificing her youth while she tangles with Kronk amidst his Christmas dream. It’s dizzying, delirious, nightmarish and moving in equal measure.

Whether you see it as a Halloween-twist on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) or the most original fantasy-horror of the Nineties, The City of Lost Children simply has to be seen by all cult film fans.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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