A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The City of Lost Children

October 4,2010

The City of Lost Children

I think I bought this movie way back in the nineties because I had seen enigmatic and tantalizing previews. Previews which featured a testimonial by Terry Gilliam. I had no idea, however, what to expect from my purchase. What I got, of course, was this indescribable and strange fairy tale.

How to even begin to capture this movie? It starts with dreams I suppose. In an offshore lab reminiscent of an oil derrick a mad scientist has been kidnapping children and trying to steal their dreams because he has none of his own. He’s waited on by a rubber faced group of clones, a tiny woman with huge hair, and a depressive brain in a fish tank. The children come from the city near the lab – the city of lost children. It’s an entire world unto itself. A strange cyberpunk circa 1940 port city full of precarious buildings and bridges over murky canals.

The folk doing the kidnapping are a group called the cyclops who are all blind men with mechanical eyes. One day they kidnap a little boy who has been working in a fun fair with a big slow apish strongman. The strongman – called only One – sets out to find his petit frere. Along the way he befriends a little girl who has been heading a gang of child thieves at the behest of a greedy pair of conjoined twins who call themselves The Octopus.

If all of that begins to sound a little strange then you are beginning to understand the magical feel of this movie. It has an opium addicted organ grinder who has a collection of tamed flees. It has a raving blind priest in the boiler room of a great ship. It has wild rube-goldbergian plot contrivances where the smallest thing can have enormous consequences. And throughout the entire movie there is a pervasive mood of melancholy and unease. It’s not just the children that are lost in this strange city but all the populace.

What captures me most about this movie is the way the story is told. For the most part it is the story of One and his quest to rescue his little brother, but it is also an exploration of this strange lost world filled with circus freaks and steampunk technology. (All the devices and technology in the movie are full of gears and tiny hydraulics and vacuum tubes.) There is a whole history to the scientist Krank and his clone henchmen, which unfolds as the movie progresses. There’s very little exposition in the movie, certainly no dialog that ever explains anything. (Except a quick fairy story told to Krank by Irvin – the brain in a tank.) You have to glean the history behind the characters from their interactions and what little glimpses of the past you are provided.

The movie is also practically a showcase of unusual and strange-looking people. There’s the beak-nosed and terrifying Daniel Emilfork as Krank. There’s the rubber-faced Dominique Pinon who plays all the clones (and one other pivotal character later on.) There’s the distinctive Ron Pearlman as the childlike giant One. There’s little person actress Mireille Mosse as the sort of mother figure on the lab. All provide memorable and fantastic performances which make this strange world come to life.

Everything about this movie is a unique piece of art. From the design of Irvin’s mechanical tank to the look of the city itself. The special effects were absolutely the best to be had at any price back in 1995 and have not aged a day. From the bits of complex CGI to the many tricks employed to allow Dominiqur Pinon to play seven parts on screen at the same time. The effects are such that most of the time you’d think the directors had simply found some way to film all these impossible things (like the killer fleas) practically and on the set.

Special thanks to the madmen at the helm of this entire creation. Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet only did a couple films together but still in my mind Jeunet et Caro are the Coen Brothers of French cinema. They created feverish dreamscapes on film in a way that has never been duplicated. We own another Jeunet film (Amelie) but for some reason have never bought Delicatessen. That is something we must rectify one day.

From beginning to end this enchanting fairy tale is so mesmerising and unique that I can’t help being completely absorbed by it all over again every time we watch it. It’s a crazy dream and a sad freakish world with a story of big hearted steadfast determination set in it. It was a delight to visit it once again tonight – and now I’m off to play some Bioshock.

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October 4, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , ,

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