City of Lost Children, The (1995)

It’s probably one of the most visually stunning films from the ‘90s with incredible production design and cinematography, but it can be difficult to care for its fractured story or the array of eccentric characters. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review #2,389

Dir. Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet
1995 | France | Drama/Fantasy/Sci-Fi | 112 mins | 1.85:1 | French
NC16 (passed clean) for disturbing and grotesque images of violence and menace

Cast: Ron Perlman, Daniel Emilfork, Judith Vittet
Plot: A scientist in a surrealist society kidnaps children to steal their dreams, hoping that they slow his aging process.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
Distributor: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing – Dystopia; Nightmares
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

If there ever was a film from the ‘90s that could be described as ‘visionary’, this could be it.  As a follow-up to their debut feature, Delicatessen (1991), Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet pull out all the stops in terms of their visual style in The City of Lost Children

It would also be their last work together as Jeunet worked towards his greatest success with Amelie (2001) while Caro faded away from the limelight. 

Its incredible production design and grungy looking cinematography give it a metallic and tactile feel, as if you could smell the world. 

Although the ‘90s was a decade where CG technology showed great promise, The City of Lost Children feels almost anachronistic, as if it had been made during the silent era of the ‘20s instead, with its life-size physical sets and old-school charm. 

“When you’re born in the gutter, you end up in the port.”

Pre-Hellboy Ron Perlman stars as One, who must find his little brother after he is taken away by a group of thugs aiding a reclusive madman with a nefarious scheme—kidnapping and stealing the dreams of little boys and girls to slow down his ageing process. 

There’s perhaps one too many a frightened child in the film, though Caro and Jeunet have largely established a wacky, darkly comic tone from the onset to mitigate any unpleasant feelings toward the story’s ill-treatment of children. 

Perhaps what might raise even more eyebrows is its implicit paedophilia as One and a young girl share a friendship that feels a notch too intimate. 

In any case, what didn’t quite work for me is its fractured storytelling; nor did its array of eccentric characters build enough empathy for me to care about.  Its final act, however, is an impressive combination of action, suspense and comedy.

Grade: B-



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