Monday, 14 March 2016

After achieving cult success with surreal post-apocalyptic comedy Delicatessen, directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro got to work on fantasy epic The City of Lost Children, available now on Blu-ray.

The film’s most distinctive character is its villain – Krank, a scientist whose inability to dream has accelerated his ageing. In order to save himself, he’s been kidnapping local children and stealing their dreams. And then he makes the clumsy mistake of taking the kid whose big brother is Ron Perlman. Perlman plays circus strongman One, who sets out on a quest to get his bro back, somehow teaming up with orphan Miette along the way.

The most striking thing about The City of Lost Children is how amazing it looks. Between Darius Khondji’s cinematography, Jean Rabasse’s production design, and Jean-Paul Gaultier’s costumes, Jeunet and Caro’s team have created an engrossing expressionist artwork. The winding, semi-futuristic, semi-Victorian city brings to mind Metropolis; the collection of odd characters, including ‘Uncle Irvin’, a brain in a tank who speaks through gramophones, resemble Terry Gilliam at his most off-the-wall; and the journey to Krank’s ocean lab, surrounded in vibrant green fog, is very much inspired by the imagination of Jules Verne.

The problem is that, with everything so whimsical, the story feels rather slight. Whereas Gilliam, for example, uses surrealism to great satirical effect, Jeunet and Caro’s story is a simple fairy tale, and not much more, while One and Miette’s growing bond is not entirely convincing – it shows up far too often that these two heroes are the least interesting characters in the film.

So, The City of Lost Children may not have a particularly affecting narrative, but visually it’s a masterpiece. Let yourself get carried away by the whimsy and beauty of its world.


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