The City of Lost Children

It’s Monday!  Yay!…. oh, wait.  Mondays are supposed to suck, right?  Okay, I’ll take back the “yay!” and cancel the booze and strippers.  I hope everybody had a good weekend of zeppelin excursions and speakeasy parties with Al Capone’s cronies.  For myself, I spent most of Saturday day-tripping an Egyptian archaeological dig at the site of what my host thought was a previously undiscovered Pharoah’s tomb. Turned out it was the tomb of a dark magician who was executed for committing some sort of crime against nature and the Egyptian pantheon. Which may explain why we all spent most of Sunday running from canopic jars filled with eldritch demons, reanimated mummies and jackal statues that were hungry for human blood.  Weird, weird weekend.


But I’m back in front of the computer this morning, so obviously it all ended well.  Any adventure where you can limp away with all limbs still attached (and your soul isn’t being eaten by the dark entities that tried to invade your body while you slept) can be counted a success, don’t you?  So let’s move on and talk about this cool little movie that, while not overtly Steampunk, has a beautiful visual aesthetic that just screams Gaslight Cool.  Readers, I offer you…..


The City of Lost Children

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Amazon Instant Video


The City of Lost Children (original title “La Cité des enfants perdus”) is a French language movie released in the spring of 1995, directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and starring Ron Perlman, of the “Hellboy” movies and the 1980’s “Beauty and the Beast” tv series. France Cinema 3 was the studio, and it was distributed in the States by Sony Pictures. It is considered by many to be steampunk. The film was originally done in the French language (with Ron Perlman, a non-French speaker, reciting his lines in French by rote). The version I watched was dubbed (I know, it’s a scandal and I should be ashamed of myself: I prefer dubbing over subbing. But then again, I almost invariably use the closed captioning option on my television, so I usually end up with both anyway).


According to its IMDB entry, it’s about “a scientist in a surrealist society [that] kidnaps children to steal their dreams, hoping that they slow his aging process.” I don’t like IMDB summaries of movies. They always over-simplify things, and that’s especially true here.


Ron Perlman plays One, a Russian strongman and performer in a freak show. He has a 5-year-old “little brother,” (actually a foundling he took in and raised) and the two of them live a hard life, but, to all evidence, a contented one. At least until Denree, the brother, is abducted by cyborg-obsessed cultists, and, along with several other children, is sold to the scientist mentioned above, in exchange for clockwork prosthetic eyes and ears. One spends the rest of the story trying to find Denree and rescue him.


Krank, our villain, is even more interesting than One. Krank is a test tube creation. He and his siblings – six clones, a brain in a box, and a dwarf woman to act as ‘mother’ – were all made by their creator and turned loose. Krank was built last, designed to be perfect, the ultimate creation. He is smarter than the others, and is their leader, for good or ill. But there was a flaw in his creation: he can’t dream. Hence all the abducting of children. He is trying to use their dreams to find his own. It’s not going well.


This is where our hero, One, comes in. He goes in search of his brother, and stumbles over an Oliver-Twist-esque gang of pre-adolescent pickpockets and thieves. These children are being controlled by The Octopus, actually conjoined twin sisters (played with creepy panache by Geneviève Brunet and Odile Mallet). The Octopus is a cruel taskmistress, and the leader of the children, a young girl named Miette is constantly butting heads with these women. One accidentally stumbles into one of their meetings and is recruited to help them steal a safe. It’s strictly quid pro quo: he’ll help them steal the safe, if they help him find his brother. They manage to steal the safe, and then accidentally drop it into a canal.


The Octopus thinks the bungled loss of the safe was a plot on Miette’s part to double cross her. So she gets a former circus performer to murder both One and Miette. And he succeeds. Sort of. Miette is pushed into the canal and apparently drowns, only to be rescued by a mysterious diver. But One doesn’t know she survived, and is crushed by guilt.


Sound weird so far? It gets weirder. I don’t want to get too far into the plot; just wanted to give you enough of a taste to hook you.


I liked this movie. The cinematography had a dreamy quality to it that I can’t actually explain but I really enjoyed. In fact, the whole movie had the feeling of a fever dream; it made sense, but you wouldn’t have been surprised if it took a sudden turn down the nearest rabbit hole. Hell, at times, I was almost expecting that sharp left turn. Ron Perlman turns in a satisfactory performance. He doesn’t speak French, so had to learn his lines parrot-fashion. That doesn’t sound easy at all, but if it stressed him, it doesn’t show in his performance. Yes, it’s a very stylized performance, everybody’s is; but this is a dream fantasy, I expect nothing less. Everybody does a good job, and are delightfully over the top at times. But my personal props go to Dominique Pinon, who played all six clone brothers; he was able to differentiate them enough that you felt like they were six people, rather than film trickery.


The steampunk elements were subdued, which doesn’t surprise me, considering it wasn’t intended to be specifically steampunk. The most obvious were the “optacons,” the prosthetic eyes worn by the cultists. They looked like a Victorian version of Star Trek’s Borg. The deep sea diver (also played by Dominique Pinon) has a delightfully steampunk lair under the waters of the canal. It and the city are very gritty and dark.


Look, I’m only diminishing the experience by rattling on about it.  I liked it. Give it a try.

Categories: Review, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Video | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “The City of Lost Children

  1. The first theme is one of my all time favorite intros.

    Also, I would not qualify this as steampunk. It struck me much more as an adult fairytale.

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