Monday, February 28, 2011

Review of “The City of Lost Children” (aka “La Cité des Enfants Perdus” dir Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, 1995)

            Jeunet and Caro, the same directing duo behind the post-apocalyptic black comedy “Delicatessen” (1991), present us with another masterful rendition of a dystopian society in “The City of Lost Children”. Jeunet is best known in America for his direction of "Alien: Insurrection" (1997),  "Amelie" (2001), and "A Very Long Engagement" (2004). This is a visually gripping work of science fiction steampunk (speculative fiction from a by-gone time - usually Victoran era). Dream-like and whimsical, this film takes place in a mysterious port city and stars Ron Pearlman as a dim-witted yet good-hearted strongman, One, who joins forces with a young girl, Miette (Judith Vittet), and her fellow street urchins in a quest to find his adopted little brother, Denree (Joseph Lucien). Denree has been kidnapped by one-eyed cyborgs known as “Cyclopses” who plan to sell him to a small group of comical clones (all played by Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon) who work for a madman, Krank (German word for “sick”, played by Daniel Emilfork). Krank can’t dream, so he uses a mechanical machine to steal the dreams of young children. The Cyclopses are a fanatical and repressed monastic order who willingly submit to having one eye removed and replaced by a mechanical contraption as part of their initiation rite. 

             The characters in this film are unique and bizarre: evil ex-sideshow Siamese twins called “Octopus” use a classroom as headquarters for street urchin child-thieves; Marcello (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), an opium-addicted former sideshow boss of the Octopus has trained assassin fleas with attached poison vials; and Uncle Irvin is a migraine-ridden brain floating in an aquarium and utilizes an optical lens and two gramophone-like steampunk speakers to communicate.

            The film's subdued colors in combination with the costume designs by Jean-Paul Gautier evoke the  depression era of the 1930s, yet the technology is futuristic, creating a distinct vagueness in regard to whether this takes place in the past or in the future. The multiple dream sequences are visually stunning, non-the-least-of-which is the scene where Miette confronts Krank and they engage in a dance during which Miette transforms from an 8 year old to an old woman in less than a minute. The soundtrack consists of both mesmerizing sideshow organ-grinding tunes as well as comical songs, such as the one about Santa Clause and one about short gnomes (sung with a dance number by one of the clones). 

            Jeunet and Caro brilliantly use a Rube Goldbergesque series of chain-reactions in every film of theirs and “City of Lost Children” is no exception. Here we see how Miette’s teardrop hits a spider web, waking a parrot, who chirps, making a dog bark, waking a hobo who throws a liquor bottle, etc until we have a car accident, a power outage, and a ship crashing into the dock. Another memorable scene is when Krank has one of the clones recite a charmingly fanciful nonsense poem to him in order to help him fall asleep. The clone sits next to Krank and speaks…

“The sea is blue like the sky/And the sky is blue like the South Seas/I don’t know if I’m swimming in the sky

/Or flying in the sea/The hammerhead shark plays xylophone with the catfish bones/The walrus plays Jew’s 

harp with the sperm whale’s suspenders/Igloos turn into Mushrooms”

The fact that this film has no love-story is most admirable. The plot progresses naturally without the tacked-on love-stories which snag plot movement in more formulaic films. This is an exceptional film with a dazzling array of uniquely twisted characters and spellbinding visual effects. Remarkably superb scenes weave their way throughout the film and Marianne Faithful’s track “Who Will Take My Dreams Away?” played during the closing credits wraps the film up beautifully.

            Jean-Pierre Jeunet has a new comedy/drama "Micmacs" (2009) which is about a man who got shot in the head and joins a rag-tag group of outcasts in order to bring down the weapons manufacturer which produced the bullet.

STRANGE INTERLUDE: My Dream, Time-Travel inspired band, "Hypnagogic Telegram" is going VIRAL on Youtube. Timelord Rock. Trock. I play a timeghost (zeitgeist) that inhabits the wardrobe closet in the TARDIS. I come out in costumes from various eras to dance & sing. If Doctor Who would have a band, it might sound like this.

<---- View YOUTUBE VIDEO here.

Check out my Time Travel, Dream, surreal artwork, performance art, costuming & photography on the other blog pages!

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