Dogging on France is easy (and fun!) but any proper cinephile ought to be grateful for how it’s a place where art’s in so high regard that an utterly strange flick like City of Lost Children can be made with such an impressive bankroll behind it. A lot of times, cash and vision have to be inversely proportioned on a budget sheet. Look at this flick, though, and you won't see any moment where its reach exceeds its grasp. Its scenery looks real, not like a too-clean back-lot set or a seamed matte painting, and its on-screen illusions come from a time when CG effects got enough time to be rendered in a way that would be timeless.
For as many directors there are who draw a direct conceptual line to the films of the silent, German expressionist era, I can think of no other modern picture that could be more seamlessly programmed into a bill with Robert Wiene or F.W. Murnau’s work. So many movies aspire for lucid surrealism, but few feel like a true dreamscape travelogue like this does.
See for yourself...
Doesn't tell you much about the plot, does it? Remember when trailers didn't spell everything out? I'll fill you in the details, and stop me if it doesn’t sound like the record of some nightmare…
The tacit strongman known as One (Ron Perlman, long before Hellboy) is searching for his little brother, Denree. A cabal of cyborg cyclopes have kidnapped the boy by the bidding of Krank, a rapidly-aging mad scientist who’s long lost the ability to dream. Krank’s having children brought to his island fortress to steal their dreams and reverse his condition. Problem is, the man’s such a scary creep, he only ever gets nightmares out of these kids, and those things simply aren't going to help him. However, when One crosses paths with Miette, a streetwise orphan, he may have found the ally to help him bring down this wretched old man's reign of terror.
Somewhere throughout all that, we run into dwarves, cloned quintuplets, a talking brain in a jar and a whole gang of the most sinister Santas you’ll find outside of the South Pole.
It isn’t constructive to want a director to stick to one particular genre or, worse yet, to make the same movie over and over. However, I can’t help but see this as a film that Jean-Pierre Jeunet could only ever make at this very precise transitional point in his career. It was his last collaboration with Marc Caro and I find it comparable to Sam Raimi on Army of Darkness, Wes Anderson on Rushmore or Alex Proyas on Dark City. Jeunet got hired to do Alien Resurrection because of this, and the extra clout he earned allowed him to make Amelie, Micmacs and A Very Long Engagement--films that all had traces of this dark quirkiness, but within sunnier heightened realities instead of an all-encompassing industrial nightmare. And that’s fine (lord knows Amelie had far more crossover appeal than this,) but it's still a little wistful for me that we’re unlikely to ever see this kind of wonderfully-dark vision on screen again.
And “on screen” is perhaps what should most emphasized there. You hear a lot about “visionary directors” today whose work is supposedly like seeing comics in motion. Next to the Fifth Element from a year later, of course, this is the one original flick that unequivocally feels like something you could only otherwise see in a French comics album painted by the likes of Moebius or Juan Gimenez. Incidentally, comics are regarded with much higher esteem in France, too.
Putting aside the old jokes about Jerry Lewis and frog legs, maybe there is something preferable there?
Check out some previous "Weirdies" below...
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Videodrome
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: The Holy Mountain
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Bubba Ho-Tep
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Santa Claus
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Moonwalker
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Meet the Feebles
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Being John Malkovich
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Death Race 2000
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: A Scanner Darkly
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Buckaroo Banzai
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Twelve Monkeys
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Dark City
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: The Yellow Submarine
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Shadow of the Vampire
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Return to Oz
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Koyaanisqatsi
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Erik the Viking
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Altered States
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Repo Man
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: The Peanut Butter Solution
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: The Toxic Avenger
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Begotten
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Fantastic Planet
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: The Plague Dogs
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Nam's Angels/the Losers
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Willard
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: The Ultimate Warrior/Jake the Snake Vignettes
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Schwarzenegger's Insane Japanese Ads
- WELCOME TO WEIRD: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind