What to do while watching:
What to eat while watching:
Like Blade Runner and Brazil, this dark vision of future earth is set in a time when all times of day are dim. The urban landscape of all three films is even more overcrowded than cities are now, making La Ciudad de Mexico look like Naperville, Illinois--i.e. elbow room aplenty. The City of Lost Children seems to have been built on top of other cities, and all land is deeply layered in manufactured structures and the rubble thereof. The ocean is muddy and dank, and the air is thick with pollutants making all times of day very gray, making all scenes look like nighttime scenes.
It is in this decayed and ruined surrounding that our ghastly tale unfolds. Put jagged, surreal imagery with the fact that the film is in French (which I don't speak, and who can fully trust subtitles?), and it took a while for me to overcome my discombobulation, to get re-combobulated, as it were. Directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet do not help, either. Even as some of the stranger images-like the five identical cowardly henchmen (played by rubberfaced Dominique Pinon)--become elucidated, the cinematography still aims at disorienting the viewer, a propos of this totally disoriented world.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to unforgettable characters--much like those from the mind of David Lynch. The story unfolds around a mad scientist, Krank (Daniel Emilfork), who has lost the ability to dream. He has done some other kooky things, though, like cloning a family, building a monster in the classic Mary Shelley's Frankenstein sense, and designing a contraption that lets him enter into the dreams of children, sort of a sick twist on Little Nemo in Slumberland. In an effort to dream, Krank sends his army of transformed men, the Cyclopes, to kidnap children, whom he straps into his contraption so he may penetrate their little nightmares.
Meanwhile, a circus strongman named One (Ron Perlman), a big, dumb brute of a man who used to be a whaler--straight out of Moby Dick--has an adopted little brother who becomes one of Krank's white mice. One must recoup his little munchkin. Sadness drives him like a mule through the twisted city. His ally is Miette (Judith Vittet), a pre-pubescent girl. The prepubers in this city either die or turn to crime, it seems. One clot of pickpockets works for a strange twin called The Octopus. This character's special effect is one of the most effective I've seen because it is entirely acted and uses no film tricks.
Miette is one of the best kid robbers, something akin to the Artful Dodger in Dickens' Oliver Twist. She befriends One partly because he's so big and strong and partly because he, too, is more child-like than adult. She, on the other hand, is an "old soul" from living in this cruel and harsh world.
Classic character types and archetypes from fairytales, myths and nightmares all tangle in this mad world. The plot is more than the typical rag tag band of outcasts striving against the evil emperor because here, the entire world is crazy and evil. There are no innocents, except, perhaps One; and evil characters appear just about everywhere and include in their ranks animals and inanimate objects.
I really like how Jeunet and Caro have so many great ideas and pull them off, from camera shots from animal points of view (including fleas) to the crazy comic Christmas happenings (for this all occurs during that jolly season, it seems). It's really brilliantly done, and I found nothing predictable or trite about it, in spite of the characters being so strangely familiar.
It's about the strangest thing I've seen, and definitely worth seeing. It's no wonder Terry Gilliam is such a fan of these Belgian filmmakers' work. His own Brazil is one of the greatest films, in my humble opinion, and it, too, is heavily disturbing. Renting either movie, you should also consider picking up something like Hot Dog--The Movie as a second feature to watch directly afterward. It will help to palliate some of the heavy darkness and could stave off nightmares. Else you may wake up in a fever dream gasping, "The horror! The horror!"
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.