The City of Lost Children (1994)

On my old, long-gone SFreaders.com blog, I used to do short reviews of films and television programs that I’d just watched. I’d note down a few on-the-spot points and comments during the film, and put together a short review – just several paragraphs summarizing the comments and impressions I’d jotted down – while the film was still fresh in my mind, either that same night or the day after. I’d then post this mini-review to my blog under the heading of “A Quiet Night In: (Title of Film)”.

Cover of The City of Lost Children

Well, I think it’s long past time that I started reprising “A Quiet Night In” again for this blog. I had a nice, quiet night in tonight, and had a great time watching the DVD of a rather strange, yet enjoyable film, The City of Lost Children (1994). This is a fascinating and entertaining French surrealist fantasy from Belgian film-makers Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, the two guys who produced the classic and equally surreal Delicatessan back in 1991, as well as the more mainstream hit movies Alien: Resurrection and Amelie.

The City of Lost Children is a strange, whimsical, dark adult fairytale. Set in a bizarre, twilight, retro steampunk, dystopian cityscape, the story begins with a weird gang who kidnap young kids from a local harbour town, and take them by boat to an offshore oil-rig. This is the futuristic base of evil scientist, Krank, who is afflicted by accelerated ageing, apparently caused because he has lost the ability to dream. Krank believes that he can reverse the ageing process if he can start dreaming again, so he tries to do this by stealing the dreams of the kidnapped children, but all he gets are nightmares, because the kids are terrified of him.

Circus strongman One (played by Ron Perlman) and little orphan girl Miette, search for One’s little brother, who was kidnapped by the gang at the start of the film. A series of crazy adventures and dangerous encounters with all sorts of weird characters lead to the final psychedelic climax and rescue of the children from the doomed oil rig.

The plot isn’t exactly logical or based in reality (it is absurdist surrealism, after all), but it’s great fun, full of crazy technology, imagery, schemes and ideas, and truly grotesque characters. There’s not just one but TWO mad scientists; we’ve also got Krank’s six henchmen, who just happen to be clones (all played by Dominique Pinon) created by the other mad scientist (also played by Pinon); a giant brain floating in an aquarium; evil Siamese twin sisters (the Octopus) who control, Fagin-like, a small gang of runaway children, using them to steal money, jewellry and other valuable items; the weird gang (who kidnap the children), all of whom happen to be totally blind and who can only see with the aid of cybernetic eyes; and trained fleas and rats. Nobody could ever accuse these characters of not being memorable! 🙂

It seems that Jeunet and Caro have their own little group of favourite actors that they like to call upon whenever they make new films, and there are a few of these familiar faces in this film. Ron Perlman also starred in Alien: Resurrection, and Dominique Pinon and Jean-Claude Dreyfus were both major characters in Delicatessan several years before.

Dominique Pinon has starred in at least four Jeunet and Caro films that I know of – Alien: Resurrection, Amelie, Delicatessan and The City of Lost Children (as well as other cinematic classics like Betty Blue) – although he is mainly familiar to mainstream audiences because of the first two films.

I’m a huge fan of “foreign” (non-English) films at the best of times, and this is a good one. But I’d offer a bit of advice – watch the original preferred 2002 French-language DVD release with subtitles, and avoid like the plague the awful English dubbed later releases. The original DVD version is far superior.

Anyone who is tired of the endless, vacuous, formulaic Hollywood action flicks, or if they just enjoy off-beat, surreal fantasies such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, could do a lot worse than try out The City of Lost Children. I certainly enjoyed it immensely.

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