The City of Lost Children

1995 film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro

The City of Lost Children (French: La cité des enfants perdus) is a 1995 film about a mad scientist who is kidnapping children in a busy port town, and a circus strongman determined to rescue his missing little brother.

Directed by Mark Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, written by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Gilles Adrien.

Miette edit

Miette: When you're born in the gutter you end up in the port.

L'oncle Irvin edit

L'oncle Irvin: [after Krank's latest failiure] Who stole the child's dreams? Krank, in his evil schemes. But the happy tale had a sting in it's tail. The genius has a fit of pique, hear the genius shriek, the 'genius' is up a creek.

Dialogue edit

L'oncle Irvin: [Following through with his suggestion that a solution might be found found in an analysis of Krank's "tears"] Once upon a time there was an inventor so gifted that he could create life. A truly remarkable man.
Krank: [Sarcastically] A fairy tale! Tears are welling in my eyes.
L'oncle Irvin: Since he had no wife or children he decided to create them in his laboratory. He started with wife and fas into the most beautiful princess in the world. Alas, a wicked genetic fairy cast a spell on the inventor so much so that the princess was only knee height or less. He then cloned six children in his own image, faithful, hardworking. They were so alike no one could tell them apart. But fate tricked him again, giving them all sleeping sickness. Craving someone to talk to he grew in a fish-tank a poor migraine-ridden brain. And then at last he created his masterpiece more intelligent then the most intelligent man on Earth.
[Krank freezes]
L'oncle Irvin: But alas the inventor made a serious mistake. While his creation was intelligent he never ever had a dream. You can't image how his sadness made him quickly he grow old.
[Krank sheds a single teardrop]
Clone: [Seeing it] Boss!... There!... There!
[Krank tries to catch it]
Clone: Quick! A dropper!
Clone: A dropper Quick!
Mlle. Bismuth: [Bismuth and the clones start rushes around for a dropper] A dropper!
Mlle. Bismuth: A dropper!
Clone: A dropper!
Mlle. Bismuth: A dropper! A dropper!
Clone: A dropper!
Mlle. Bismuth: [Finding one] Ah, a dropper!
[Goes to Krank and gently uses it to get the tear]
L'oncle Irvin: [Disgusted] The poor masterpiece became so crazed he believed a single tear drop could save him. And after many cruel deeds he died.
L'oncle Irvin: [shouting] Never knowing what it was to dream!

Krank: Irvin?
L'oncle Irvin: I've got a migraine!
Krank: Irvin, you know all about feelings. Won't you try to help me? Won't you explain why all those children only have nightmares?
L'oncle Irvin: Because you are their nightmare. You could persecute all the children in the world, but there's one thing you'll never have.
Krank: What?
L'oncle Irvin: A soul.
Krank: Because you believe you have one? You don't even have a body. The one who created us made us all monsters.
L'oncle Irvin: No Krank, you're wrong. You are the only monster here.
Krank: [Distressed] Be Quiet! He is the only one responsible for that, I say I'm innocent. I'm innocent!
Krank: [Shuffles away and then turns back with regained composure] In any case, I thank you for your help.

About The City of Lost Children edit

  • From Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, the distinctive French wunderkinder responsible for 1991's dazzling genre-bender Delicatessen, comes this similarly eye-popping effort, The City of Lost Children—a film at least equal to its predecessor in terms of sheer style, imagination, and invention, even if it doesn't hold together as well structurally. The movie follows the adventures of a brave nine-year-old girl who teams up with a gentle, simpleminded strongman in order to rescue her younger brother, who has been kidnapped, along with a handful of other kids, by a sad, rapidly aging old man named Krank, who uses his scientific genius to project himself into the world of the children's dreams in a vain attempt to liven up his dreadfully bleak existence on his secluded island fortress. The City of Lost Children fancies itself a fairy tale—albeit a dark and scary Brothers Grimm-styled one—and, were it not for a few isolated moments of icky violence and questionable sexual overtones, it would make a fine children's picture. However, in its current form, we have a movie charming enough to capture the simple magic of Méliès' A Trip to the Moon, yet high-tech enough to feature special-effects wizardry worthy of anything in Jurassic Park; sophisticated enough to grasp Terry Gilliam's jovial sense of cynicism, but wide-eyed enough to evoke a child's innocuous way of looking at things (even though it's still gleefully hip enough to swipe a sight gag from Stephen Sayadian's sexed-up “remake” of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). In short, we have a movie jam-packed with enough strange characters and wild mythologies for at least three films; ironically, therein lies both the picture's greatest strength and its most grating weakness. While it's undeniably wonderful to be presented with such a full palette, the sensory overload that inevitably occurs as the film progresses can't help but distance one from both the characters and the (admittedly marvelous) world they inhabit.
  • If I were to judge this film solely on its visuals, it would get an unqualified rave, no questions asked. It's only when I start to think about the story and the tone that my enthusiasm inches downward, because it's done more as an exercise than as a narrative you're meant to care about. Maybe the ultimate destination of "City of Lost Children" isn't in movie theaters at all, but on one of those video wall panels like Bill Gates is installing in his new house; you'd see an amazing image every time you walked past, and occasionally you'd linger for as many more astonishing sights as you felt capable of absorbing.
    The movie is an expensive, high-tech French production, using more special effects than any other French film in history, and it is appropriate that a lot of its look seems inspired by that Parisian visionary, Jules Verne. It takes place not so much in the future (or even in the dated but vivid "future" as seen by Verne) as in a sort of parallel time zone, where there are recognizable elements of our world, violently rearranged. The co-directors, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, created a similar visual extravaganza in their first feature, "Delicatessen," a 1991 fantasy about cannibalism.
  • If "City of Lost Children" had been released then, the "2001: A Space Odyssey (film)" fans would have segued right across the street to take it in. Through the years there have been other such inspired films made for the eye: "Blade Runner," "Fantasia," "Days of Heaven," "Brazil," "El Topo," "Santa Sangre," "Akira" and indeed "Delicatessen" come to mind. I am trying to be rather precise here, because many people will probably not find themselves sympathetic to this movie's overachieving technological pretensions, while others will find it the best film in months or years. You know who you are. I am not one of you. But I have enough of you in me to pass along the word. Far out.
  • Entirely created in a studio, and set in a world plunged into endless twilight-cum-night, the film posits a kind of neo-Victorian, industrial society where David Lynch would feel at home. Though “Delicatessen” was seemingly set in the wrong part of town in the early ’50s, “City” is more like a Looney Tunes fantasy sprung from the head of Jules Verne.
    Setting is a multilevel smokestack port littered with industrial detritus, rusty tankers and the biggest collection of weirdos and humans since Tod Browning’s “Freaks.” Local heavies are the Cyclops, a Nietzschean sect of one-eyed fanatics who abduct young kids for crazed inventor Krank (Daniel Emilfork), an aging wizen who lives on a castle-like oil rig beyond a giant minefield.
  • But with each frame filled to bursting point with visual detail and multiplaned design, plus razor-sharp cutting that often eliminates transitions, it’s not a movie you can afford to take your eyes off for a second. In addition, the major set-pieces are so breathtaking that it’s sometimes hard to remember afterwards where the characters were last positioned in the plot.
    Effects work, all done in France, is seamless, to the extent that some (such as the clones, all played by Pinon) effectively lose the awesomeness of being an effect. On a purely emotional level, it’s notable that the film’s most engaging moments are those when the filmers turned off the computers and simply came up with entrancing ideas.
  • City of the Lost Children is just unbelievably bizarre when you watch it. The plot is a pretty simplistic good vs. evil ploy, but the city is the real star of the show. While it's funky urban-decay architecture and opaque green water is fascinating enough as it is, even more so are the inhabitants of the city. Here's a quick little list of what you'll see in this movie:
  • Circus strongman
  • Assassin fleas and their accordion-grinder master
  • Evil Siamese twins
  • A band of child thieves
  • A brain in a jar
  • Circus midgets
  • A bunch of clones that suffer from narcolepsy
  • Borg/Hellraiser-type looking people
  • Dreams in a jar
  • A guy with a tattoo of a minefield on his head
  • A couple dozen Santa Clauses
  • Can we find, in "The City of Lost Children," a parable on the desperation of modern man, who is progressively losing the ability to dream?
Caro: We never have "messages" of that sort, merely the desire to tell a simple story.
Jeunet: I think of men incapable of dreaming...There have always been men to put on fantasy festivals, or to make films, to make others dream; and there are others who have never dreamed.
Caro: Dreaming is also having the ability to preserve the spirit of childhood. It's true that it's a little metaphorical in the framework of the film, but there's no message.
  • Why was there so much secrecy during filming?
Jeunet: When working on a film of such scope, answering journalists' questions is impossible. There are already so many more pressing questions: where am I going to put the camera, what do I say to the actor, how it's going to be done, etc. And there are a million of these questions daily! [Laughs.] Also, we didn't want to spoil the surprises, so as not to wear the public out.
  • Luc Besson's "The Professional" shows the love of a brute (Jean Reno) and an adolescent (Natalie Portman). Here, could one say as well that there is a love story between One and Miette, especially as evoked in the dialogue?
Jeunet: This could also be a love story. She is in search of that, but she is only 9 years old. But any comparison to the Besson film is purely by chance...
In practice, her coquettishnes -- the fact that she softens -- is in the classic tradition, except that here it comes from a pre-adolescent...
Jeunet: The whole scene on the staircase with the shoe is overloaded with sexual connotations, but it's unconscious on the part of the little girl...and with us, too: it was while editing that we realized it!
  • Indie Wire: I was thinking about Delcatessen and “The City of Lost Children.” While they are dark, they also have happy endings for the characters who deserve them. So, in that sense, maybe you’ve been sentimental and optimistic all along?
Jeunet: For us, “The City of Lost Children” wasn’t dark. It was like a fairytale, and in a fairytale everything is dark: the little children, the dark forest, they are lost. But it is so good to be afraid when you are a kid. And when I saw it again last year, I thought, “Oh yes, it is dark.” For the first time I felt it was dark.
  • Krank, an evil inventor incapable of dreaming, kidnaps children hoping to steal their dreams - but can only retract their nightmares. But when the adoptive younger brother of circus strongman One is taken, One teams up with thief Miette to stage a daring rescue.
  • On the one hand, capitalism is presented as enabling self-interest and freedom, as exemplified by the freedom to produce scientific developments (Krank), pursue religious ideas (the Cyclopses), and seek wealth (the Octopus). On the other hand, it exposes the deplorable effects of capitalism ... the exploitation of childhood (the cynical orphans), of tenderness (the Original scientist, attacked and turned out by his own beloved creations), and of innocence (the terrified children whose dreams are stolen) while suggesting that there is no place in capitalism for originality, disinterestedness, duty, self-reflective analysis, and other defining aspects of "the human."
    • Jen Webb and Tony Schirato. "Disenchantment and the City Of Lost Children". Revue Canadienne d'Études cinématographiques / Canadian Journal of Film Studies. 13 (1): 62. (2004).

Cast edit

External links edit

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