Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Archive #2: City of Lost Children (1995)


Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of the most creative directors to emerge in the last 20 years and, as a huge fan of his style, this is likely not the last time I will talk about his work. I will stress however, that I do not consider City of Lost Children to be his best film, but I have chosen it as the first of his films to enter the filmstubs archive. Why? because it needs to be seen to be believed and, frankly, not enough people have seen it. Most people know about Amélie, and most people that know Jeunet recommend Delicatessen to Amélie fans, and A Very Long Engagement, under seen though it was, had the benefit of being Jeunet's first film since the massive international success that Amélie brought him. Lost somewhere between all that is City of Lost Children, probably one of the most bizarre and inventive science fiction films made in recent years, and a product of the distinctly bizarre and inventive partnership of Jeunet and his co-director Marc Caro.

Revolving around a scientist who kidnaps children in order to harness their dreams and slow his aging process (so far, it isn't going well), City of Lost Children stars a pre-Hellboy Ron Perlman as a strongman who's brother has been kidnapped by said scientist and goes on a mission to rescue the boy. You may have noticed that Ron Perlman is not French, but, though not exactly talkative, he delivers all of his lines in a language he didn't even speak at the time and it's testament to his commitment that City of Lost Children is one of his finest performances. Along the way we meet some wonderful characters, including Dominique Pinon, making his usual Jeunet appearance, in multiple roles and providing some brilliant comic relief. It is however, Daniel Emilfork who is the real star of the show, playing the mad scientist Krank. It is probably one of the strangest performances ever captured on screen, with Krank being at once creepy, insecure, volatile and obsessive, all expressed by Emilfork's unique (and frankly terrifying) features. It has to be seen to be believed.

The future world that Jeunet and Caro create is impressive. It is not a mesh of CGI imagery like many modern sci-fi films, nor is it the colourful world we see in Amélie. City of Lost Children's world is grimy and surrealist, a world of varying shades of gray that somehow manages to showcase the unique eccentricities of it's filmmakers. The film is their vision, and the backdrop, the story, the characters we encounter and Emilfork's extraordinary performance make this film so unlike any other sci-fi vision that we are unlikely to ever see anything like it again. For that reason alone, it is something you should see.

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