Friday, May 25, 2012

The City of Lost Children

Get out your talking brains and telescopic monocles(work with me here), we're reviewing The City of Lost Children!

This is a pretty strange movie written and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the famed director behind Amelie, and Delicatessen. This is stranger than both of those movies combined. Everything is so exaggerated I almost feel like I'm watching a cartoon by Studio Ghibli!

The old and evil mad scientist Krank is stealing children's dreams.  When his henchmen kidnap the little brother of a sideshow strongman(Ron Pearlman), the strongman must team up with a little girl thief in order to get his little brother back!

This movie is pretty weird and very surreal.  It takes place in a gritty alternate world( or possibly a post-apocalyptic world?).  It does a great job of setting up this depressing and surreal tone.  There are a ton of fantastical elements including a talking brain n a fish tank, a strange cult that straps telescopic monocles to their eyes to "see", conjoined twins who seem to share a brain, and a group of hapless clones that quibble with each other.  I love all these strange ideas.
Ron Pearlman!

The best part about this movie are the characters. They're so exaggerated to the point that their caricatures of the archetypes they're playing.  No generically pretty hollywood actors, Jeunet uses distinctive character actors. Daniel Emilfork is perfect for the old crazy mad scientist, and Dominique Pinon is great as the mishap group of clone brothers.  And of course Ron Pearlman is the leading man, playing his role as the simple strongman perfectly.  I really just want these characters to be in a cartoon.

The sets and and prop design are amazing here. They really do a killer job setting up this dirty eerie atmosphere. It feels like a dilapidated post WWII France set in a sci-fi surrealist dream with sideshow circus characters running the city.  Not to mention al of the unique gadgets!  my favorite has to be Irvin, the talking brain in a fish tank who lulls the good doctor to sleep.  They've created a universe I'd like to revisit.  The soundtrack is also beautiful and haunting, and the special effects, though dated now, are pretty good for their time.

It's not perfect, mostly in the story.  It's kind of long and winding and there are definitely some slow parts. I get the feeling that some sequences weren't needed and the movie could have been half an hour shorter.  They have these strange Rube Goldberg-esque random events, which are fun to watch at first(one includes two dogs humping!) but extend the movie so long it feels like the events take ten minutes and the characters are just really slow.  Either they should be faster or there should be a reason the characters aren't doing anything for twenty minutes while this thing runs it's course.

Something I really liked was that there wasn't a romantic storyline.  There was no lady for One to hate and then fall in love with at the end, which after watching movie these days seems refreshing. It's just a story about a simple guy trying to get his family back, and a little girl trying to find a new one.  That's pretty damn heartwarming.  That's another way ti feels like a Ghibli film, a generally heartwarming tale with a strong young female protagonist and no real need for a romantic subplot.

I love Jeunet's shooting style.  He has some beautiful shots and transitions, and some very trippy camera effects, especially in things like dream sequences and or seeing things through strange eyes. Basically, if you liked the visual style of Amelie, you'll enjoy watching this.  Some of the slow shots are very beautiful, but some of them take too much time for their own good.  I know they're trying to be dramatic when a character doesn't move and a giant ship is coming towards them, but if it's moving that slowly and they don't do anything, it just looks like the character is dumb.

I find it strange it's an R rated film considering it's mostly about children and they take up half the cast, but considering there's deaths, dogs humping, and a few shots of breasts, it's not surprising.  This movie is really good at tugging at the heartstrings.  There were a number of moments in which you don't know if they're going to kill kids or not(no spoilers), and it's a heart-warming story with One just trying to find his little brother and gaining a little sister along the way.  Jeunet always has this interesting way of mixing death and humor, and City of Lost Children is no different.  It kind of ends abruptly after the climax, and I wish I knew what happened to the characters left. There's not that much discussed of the resolution, which is disappointing.

It's a weird haunting movie. If you're looking for something strange surreal sci-fi movie to watch, you can't go wrong with this.  It has some slow parts but overall the strange world they create is fun enough to explore.

THE GOOD: Ron Pearman, strange sci-fi premise, great world, setting and tone, great soundtrack, amazing characters, feels like a grown-up Ghibli cartoon, nice cinematography and visual style, heartwarming story with no romantic subplot.

THE BAD: Some slow parts, Rube Goldberg sequences are are too long, ends abruptly, might be too strange for some.

THE VERDICT: $$$$ This is pretty good!  If you're into Sci-Fi or crazy fantasy, or if you're a major Ron Pearlman fan, or if you enjoyed Amelie, I'd recommend picking it up.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Delicatessen, Mirror Mask, Inception, Dark City

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: It's Irvin the talking brain's birthday, so the clones bake him a cake and sing to him.  Krank comes and immediately breaks it up.  Irvin laments how cruel Krank is, and considers maybe he should study his own tears for why he can't dream. Krank says that he cannot cry. Irvin then tells him a story, a story perhaps explaining the origin of him, Krank, the clones, and the whole reason for everything. Krank cries.


  1. Really liked this film when i saw it.
    Your blog is awesome. The sketches give the posts a nice touch and i especially love the one-scene metaphors. Cheers!

  2. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoy them!