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The City of Lost Children, written by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1995, 120 min.

Seeing this movie on the big screen was one of the most intense experiences in my life. The City of Lost Children grabs a dark part of your soul and drags you into an even darker, danker part of the universe, the world of the inner visions of Jeunet and Caro. This French team brought the hilarious Delicatessen into reality from whatever twisted dimension would produce such dark comedy. In The City of Lost Children, they seem to be dead serious despite a few laughs here and there. Visually overwrought, teeming with strange characters, and informed by coincidence -- a crazy place to visit, and one that will stick to you for a long time.

The intricate plot deals with a group of children snatchers, who bring consignments of kids into the grasp of Dr. Krank. The character One, played by Ron Perlman, loses his younger brother to this group, the Cyclops. Also involved is Miette, a young girl, and her gang of orphans, who work for the disturbed Siamese twins. There's an ex-sideshow operator with a scary flea, and a whole bunch of loonies hanging out with Dr. Krank. Six clones, and then another character who also looks the same, but may be a bit older. A midget named Mother. The brain in the tank, who needs some antacid in his water occasionally. I'm floundering around here, so I'll stop trying to describe such a convoluted group of characters. Pay close attention as you're watching, and all the connections should be pretty clear.

The film's look is very dark. It's hard to believe people's lives could go on amid such dankness and blackness, but most of the characters are pretty messed up anyways. The attention to detail is very rewarding, so we get such amusing sequences as the stealing of a key, and a series of coincidences involving "French theatre" and a boat ramming a dock. The six clones are hilarious, and the camerawork there is absolutely seamless. The visuals often overpower the other aspects of the film, so sometimes it's hard to relate to a movie where the "look" is more important than a focused group of characters or an easily manageable plot.

Which brings me to my experience of the second time watching this movie. It was on the small screen, about a week before Alien Resurrection came out, just to refresh my memory of what Jeunet could do in the director's chair (a comparison that turned out to be severely detrimental to the newer movie). I felt less immersed in The City of Lost Children simply because of the small screen, but I also was a bit more critical of the film. Definitely a work of genius in terms of visuals, and I had no trouble following the story and the characters. But the movie felt very cold, almost inhuman. The people were pawns in the hands of the costuming department, so to speak. The one big friendship of the movie, between One and Miette, was a bit disturbingly played at times. As I said already, how could anyone carry on a normal life in such surroundings? I'm not sure of my exact complaint here, because I would never want to tame the extravagances of such imaginative people as Jeunet and Caro. There are far too many indistinguishable and simply boring movies out there already. The fact remains that I wasn't grooving with the movie as much when I watched it for the second time.

To sum up: if you want a movie that will knock your hat off your head with its originality, The City of Lost Children is for you. It's disturbing, and funny, and dark. It's got its own niche clearly marked off, and that kind of extreme uniqueness is not always what the audience is looking for. But if you feel like you're in an extreme mood...

Last modified: February 6, 1998

Copyright © 1998 by James Schellenberg (

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