A review of "The City Of Lost Children"

The City of Lost Children    (1995)
     A dark tale of a simple man whose young brother is kidnapped by a madman who attempts to steal the dreams of children because he himself cannot dream.
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro.
Starring: Genevieve Brunet, Daniel Emilfork, Joseph Lucien, Odile Mallet, Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, Jean-Louis Trintignant (voice only), Judith Vittet.
     This movie is like an even darker version of the "Child Catcher" character from the film "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" made a movie (I also kept expecting him to cameo). It is a totally stylized, created world filled with dark fantasy imagery, a madman, silly clones, a talking brain, orphan thieves, evil conjoined twins, mechanically altered religious fanatics, poison carrying fleas, and the notion that a tear can cause a shipwreck and save two lives. It also has one of the most disturbing openings I have ever seen (it involves Santa so be prepared for another childhood memory to be flushed down the toilet of life). Dark, unsettling, twisted, to the point of almost defying the ability of description, yet also touchingly beautiful in it's portrayal of the spiritual nature and devotion of unrelated people who become family. 
     Ron Perlman has the male lead, a circus strongman named One, who's three year old adopted brother Denree (Joseph Lucien) is kidnapped. Innocence is tough to pull off. Most actors come across looking stupid and that's not the same thing. The character of One isn't bright but he's also not stupid. Simple, yes, but that's also different. It's fine lines and Ron Perlman does a great job walking those subtleties and capturing innocence.
     The nine year old female lead character, Miette (Judith Vittet), an orphan thief who helps One, has the look of youthful, lovely adulthood and the attitude of a child who has had no childhood. A great, character defining moment is when she is being carried on One's back and tries on an earring and checks herself out in a mirror. A telling juxtaposition of "father/daughter" and "blossoming woman" imagery. 
     Perlman and Vittet have lovely screen chemistry. The spiritual connection that develops between their characters is the beating heart of this film.
     Favorite line(s): "Does it hurt?" (asked of a woman with a metal arrow through her body) "Yes. I'm allergic to steel." 
     "After I heard them sing (whales), I always, always missed target (harpooning them)."
     I personally would consider this worth a buy but due to its unique vision, renting first might be in order. The DVD has an excellent audio commentary with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Ron Perlman.
     First published in 2004 on The Perlman Pages.

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