What can I say about the 1995 steampunk surreal mind-fuck that is The City of Lost Children a.k.a La Cite des Enfants Perdus? Really, the only thing I can say about it is that I have no idea what to say about it. It’s a weird movie that is dreamlike, wonderful and insane.
Just so you understand this movie a little better, it is a French-German-Spanish movie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet who made Delicatessen and Amelie, so if you know those movies you will get why this movie is weird.
Despite The City of Lost Children being Steampunk it does have a fairy tale tone. The story follows One, a carnival strongman whose little brother has been kidnapped. As it turns out lots of children are being taken off to an ocean rig. There is a mad scientist named Krank live and he can’t dream, so he take children so he steal their dreams. Krank is aided by his “family” Martha, a woman with Dwarfism, Irvin, a brain in a tank who gets migraines and six clones who have narcolepsy.
One is helped by a young girl named Miette who is a member of theives guild which is made up of all orphans. The guild is run by a pair of conjoined twins known as the Octopus. The Octopus becomes distrustful of Miette because of her involvement with One. Both One and Miette are capture by a cult that kidnaps the children for Krank in exchange for optical eye pieces. One is saved from the drowning but Miette is thrown to the water is and is presumed dead. She is saved however by a crazed man who lives in a submarine and looks like the six clones but older and knows something about the children abductions. Miette leaves the submarine and finds One in a bar drowning his sorrows.
Miette and One then have to deal with the Octopus again and they use an assassin flea that injects a serum into One that to makes him try and kill Miette but due to Miette’s tear hitting a spider web that scared a bird which lead to a whole chain of rections it cause the power to go out which means the light house and a huge ship crashes into the doc where everyone is standing. One comes to his sense and he and Miette are thrown into the water. The Octopus douse them with gas and lights a match but Miete and One get away and it The Octpus who is thrown into the water and blown up.
Miette and One make their way to ocean rig to find his brother. To save the brother Miette has to go into the dream and convince Krank to let him go. While that is happening the crazy guy from the submarine sets up explosive to blow it all up. As it turns out he was the one who created them. He created Martha to his beautiful princess wife but she was a dwarf, he created Irvin to talk to but his migraines, he created the clones to be his sons, but their sleep conditions and then he create Krank his great work but he couldn’t dream and because of the he aged prematurely. Miette, One, his brother, the other children, the clones and Irvin make it off the rig before it explodes.
Trying summarize this movie doesn’t do it justice, trust me. The plot is great, a little weird but on the whole it’s great but this movie exists in the visuals. The movie has very distinct look and feel. As I mention earlier this movie has a steampunk look but this was before it was really a trend so the other elements have non-specific period to them. There is no indication when or where this movie is set in and that adds to the fairy tale vibe.
Also this movie has a color palette of browns and reds. It give the port city a sense of danger and energy.
The sets are also great. The advantage here is that it made in 1995 which is before CGs stuff took hold, so the sets are real. The reveals in the sets but lets them be too. It’s not trying to hard to showcase elements of the design but lets them exist in place.
It’s not just the visuals that make this movie, it’s the characters. On the one hand it would seem like the movie didn’t give the characters a lot of development or compelling personality. The movie gives a light yet very controlled hand on revealing characters and motivations. Some are simple, like the Octopus wants money, that is simple. One however shows us that he has a good heart, not super well spoken but can be clever. Miette is gutsy and no-nonsense. Really the character’s flow with the plot so you understanding them as you try an understand the plot.
Which bring us to the plot which is simple and yet has lots of layer like a fairy tale. It’s fairly clear that this story has a lot fairy elements at work. The backstory of Krank and crew reads like a fairy tale. Yet the story isn’t obvious in its fairy tale influence it’s just woven into the story creating the a backdrop for the surreal tone and atmosphere of the movie’s world.
If I had one criticism of The City of Lost Children would it weird but then again that its strength . Watch it!
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