The Austin Chronicle

The City of Lost Children

Rated R, 117 min. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro. Starring Ron Perlman, Daniel Emilfork, Judith Vittet, Dominique Pinon, Jean-Claude Dreyfus.

REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., March 1, 1996

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. Calagari). 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. With The City of Lost Children, Jeunet and Caro have thrown in a little bit of everything and, while the approach often works (as in the absolutely ingenious, brilliantly realized sequence in which a single teardrop falling through space triggers a whole chain of events), it also results in some decidedly messy storytelling. Nevertheless, with its fine performances, gorgeous sets, incredible special effects, imaginative story line, beautiful score (by frequent David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti), and knockout cinematography, The City of Lost Children is very much worth seeing. If, occasionally, the picture seems a little cluttered, perhaps that's the price you must pay for a film as rich and enjoyable as this one.

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