Friday, 11 January 2013

filmbore pick of the week - The City Of Lost Children

The City Of Lost Children (La Cité Des Enfants Perdus)

Directors: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro
Screenplay: Gilles Adrien, Jean-Piere Jeunet, Marc Caro
Starring: Ron Perlmann, Judith Vittet, Daniel Emilfork, Dominique Pinon
Year: 1995
Language: French
UK Rental release: January 2006

Rotten Tomatoes

France is commonly known for its strengths in European cinema with such rich history in the medium. You could claim that cinema was born in France thanks to the genius of such craftsmen as the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès. As a nation, its movie status is solidified thanks to the country's creation of New Wave, evolving into the films we know today. For years, it has held the torch on an international level, helping to shine a beacon for those wanderers seeking a more cultural cinematic output, and in recent years the big name on anyone's lips is Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

You will know him as the man who brought Amelie to the world, and he may also be familiar to many of you who have ventured further with his excellent A Very Long Engagement (my personal favourite from the helmer). But it's his second picture that really stays with you. Following his uniquely brilliant feature length debut, Delicatessen, Jean-Pierre really left his mark with The City Of Lost Children.

Krank (Daniel Emilfork, Taxandria, La Belle Captive) cannot dream. He is haunted by his lack of nightmares as opposed to his abundance of them, and will do anything to experience real dreams. Unfortunately, this innocent desire involves the abhorrent abducting of children from nearby towns and connecting them up to his own fearsome contraptions, birthed from his scientific but cruel mind. Absorbing their images of slumber, he can feel what they feel and see what they see, and even extend his lifespan a little. 

All of this can only be achieved with the help of his aides, the clones (the always glorious Dominique Pinon, Delicatessen, Micmacs) who answer to Krank's every need. They're a collection of everything that Krank despises: emotions, expression, vibrancy...even dreams. Nevertheless, they are Krank's lifeline, and his pitiful, foul existence would perish without them and so would a regular stock of children.

While a fresh catch is in operation at a harbour not too far from his fortress, one of the findings is a young boy named Denree (Joseph Lucien) who, unbeknownst to Krank, is the younger, adopted brother to the man mountain, One (Ron Perlmann, Hellboy, Drive, Cronos). An ex-whaler and circus strongman, One is a powerful force of a man and will stop at nothing to rescue his little brother. But he doesn't know where to start.

Enter Miette (Judith Vittet), a street-wise, orphaned thief. With her gang of fellow juveniles, Miette is close to the bleak, underground goings-on in the town and wants to get to the bottom of the disappearing kids. With the little knowledge she has, she teams up with One to be the brain to his brawn, and seek out where all the children are imprisoned.

What starts as a rescue mission turns into a dark adventure of conjoined twins, trained fleas, talking brains, cyclopic street police and a mystery clone!

So, Amelie lovers, have you looked into any of Jeunet's other cinematic masterpieces? If not, I strongly suggest you do as the man is an absolute visionary, where even his lesser movies still shine with originality, individuality and an adept ability to still make most other films look weak in comparison. What's intriguing however, is how his abilities as a director grew from the incredible collaborations he had with the artist, Marc Caro.

Their first outing together is the brilliant Delicatessen, which was a triumph in debut film making. But you really see the explosive cocktail created when mixing their creative juices when you sit down and watch The City Of The Lost Children for the first time.

Their pairing brings to the screen some of the most original design work ever committed to film and it's clear to see that this particular result of their partnership is the biggest influence on Jeunet's solo career. Some have compared it to films such as Twelve Monkeys and Dark City for its uneasy but caricature environment, forgetting that Jeunet and Caro's film was produced shortly before or simultaneously. It's one of the most unique looking pictures of the last few decades, and this will ensure that visually it will always stand the test of time.

In part, this is also down to the incredible of eye of Darius Khondji, who you'll know for his breathtaking cinematography on pictures such as Se7en and Panic Room, displaying an incredible talent in portraying the more intense claustrophobic visuals of the thriller genre. He also brings some inventive camera techniques, from his jaunty close-ups to the cyclops point-of-vision shots, swooping and cybernetic, bringing a cold air to the characters. Here, his addition to the creative pot of the two helmers brings a further cinematic vigour, which is hugely influential to the film's overwhelming spirit and thrives in some of the more memorable set pieces.

Some of these stand-out moments are unmatched, as will be the case with other spells of Jeunet's future work. One particular example is, perhaps, the most memorable scene - the chain reaction. Through a cleverly crafted collection of cause-and-effect instances, the tiniest action leads to a surprising set of events and ending in an unusual climax. It's an outstandingly inventive scene, fondly championed by many fans of the movie and is still the seminal point of the whole piece in my opinion. 

The near-victim to this karma-like moment is the conjoined twins, The Octopus - a mysterious character working on behalf of Krank, and one of the story's most intriguing personas, not just from the deliciously evil performance from Geneviève Brunet and Odile Mallet, but from how she is portrayed in the tale. Besides her nightmarish presence, she has a film-noir quality and an air of sophistication despite her form. This method of painting characters in a spectrum of personality and drive is a common practice from Jeunet and Caro in their first two films, and something that Jeunet continues to this day.

Other characters are powerful too. Krank is handled with a slant on both an innocent perspective and a strive to control by Daniel Emilfork, showing his experience in French cinema by displaying a creature so despicable but still allowing you to feel pity through his blind quest, mirrored to the same passion and blinkered craving only ever truly displayed by the mind of a child.

If the young cast themselves don't seem quite strong enough amidst the peculiar individuals of this tale, it isn't so much of an issue, as they are integral in supporting the two leads. Judith Vittet seamlessly walks along the thin line of both the wise and the youth as Miette, and is particularly great when playing off the brilliance of Ron Perlmann. Our main lead is in a strange role as One; yes he has the physical presence but the lack of dialogue for his part is an unusual choice. However, this doesn't prevent him for holding a strong presence at the centre of the film as both Miette's protector and friend.

But there is no doubt who the strongest character is in this picture. As the clones, Dominique Pinon is about as "Dominique Pinon" as you have ever seen him. As a regular in Jeunet's movies, as is Perlmann, you're always guaranteed a stellar performance when he is around, and this tale is no exception. Comical, brash, confused, hilarious, moody, and so on, he sets to an incredible colourful realisation of a group of both sparkling and idiotic buffoons which such panache no-one could ever surpass such talent. His involvement in Jeunet's earlier pieces have ensured a regular appearance in every movie by Jean-Pierre, which is a blessing to modern cinema.

Which such an avant-garde approach, there's no disputing Caro and Jeunet's genius in The City Of Lost Children. But what really wins over here is a beautiful and brave combination of design, camera work, character and charm rarely surpassed by any other film makers today. If you enjoy this piece, I strongly urge you to partake in Jeunet's back catalogue, if not to enjoy his skewed view on the world, or to expand your cinematic tastes, but to see his favourite creative partner, Dominique Pinon at work.

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