Starring: Ron Perlman, Judith Vittet, Daniel Emilfork
Director: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Running Time: 112 mins
The City Of Lost Children (La cité des enfants perdus) is a French film about a bizarre future where a scientist kidnaps children in the hope of using their dreams to prevent his own aging, while a young girl and a large man set out to save a little boy.
From the directors of the spectacularly weird Delicatessen comes yet another bizarre dystopian fantasy, in the form of The City Of Lost Children. A film that features astonishing production design and visual effects work throughout, as well as an elegant and entertaining yet still unsettling atmosphere, it’s a thoroughly captivating watch, although at times getting just a little too strange to really get to grips with.
If there’s one thing that really stands out about The City Of Lost Children, though, it has to be its exceptional technical achievements. First off, its visual effects are fantastic – particularly given its mid-90s release – flawlessly executing on-screen cloning and even a good bit of CGI, something that hugely impressed me and added highly to the film’s deeply imaginative style.
But above all, the production design here is quite simply astonishing. Taking a level up from the strikingly bleak imagery and sets of Delicatessen, The City Of Lost Children lands you in a seemingly endless nightmare of a dystopian underworld, combining everything from classic French cityscapes to post-modern steampunk, yet with such attention to detail and passion in its creation, you find yourself entirely engrossed in an incredible fantasy world.
It’s clear that the film’s fantasy premise takes influence from the likes of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, but what’s most interesting about it is looking at the films that have clearly been influenced by this very film, most notably Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and even The Shape Of Water.
The dark and twisted fantasy landscapes and steampunk-ish tendencies of this film are clear as day in both of those films from del Toro, but the most striking similarity lies in the films’ atmosphere, that being a dark, unsettling fantasy drama that somehow masquerades with the vibe of a sweet and elegant fairytale.
It’s a unique and arguably even more unnerving experience, and yet as you watch this film, which centres on a dilapidated world where child orphans are widespread and an elderly scientist goes round kidnapping as many as possible, there’s a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy magic that’s so difficult to create, a feat that I’ve only ever really seen again in Pan’s Labyrinth, which, as dark as its story is, still almost feels like a family-friendly fairytale.
Of course, this film is quite a lot stranger than Pan’s Labyrinth, and where del Toro’s film hits emotional beats spot on, Jeunet and Caro are far more intent on bizarre comedy, which is also one of the film’s most enjoyable elements. Bringing in a fun-loving vibe that complements the bizarrely dark story well, The City Of Lost Children has a lot of laughs that add to the entertainment factor of its story, and make the film a genuinely fun watch overall.
However, it does often come at the expense of a plot that doesn’t always make sense. It’s certainly a striking and imaginative fantasy, and its core premise of the search to rescue a little boy is simple enough, but everything that happens in between is arguably just a little too weird to really get your head around.
If the film pushed the boundaries further and went for a mind-bending, nightmare-like atmosphere, then the incoherence of its plot could have added to the feel of it all. However, when it’s simply trying to develop its story and main quest, that wacky comedy and sheer weirdness more often than not gets in the way. As a result, it makes for a film that, while entertaining, just doesn’t have the narrative consistency to really grab you throughout.
The core story is made a likable one thanks to great performances from Ron Perlman and above all Judith Vittet, and with directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s bold and imaginative direction, coupled with the stunning technical work throughout, there’s a lot to love about The City Of Lost Children, but it is occasionally a movie that’s just a little too strange for its own good, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6 overall.