The City of Lost Children (aka La Cite des Enfants Perdus) DVD Review
Reviewed by Eric "The Hitman" Strauss
DVD released by Columbia TriStar
Directed by Jeunet & Caro
Written by Gilles Adrien, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro
1999, Region 1 (NTSC), 112 minutes, Rated RDVD released on October 9th, 1999
Ron Perlman as One
Daniel Emilfork as Krank
Judith Vittet as Miette
Dominique Pinon as the clones
Jean-Claude Dreyfus as Marcello
Genevieve Brunet and Odile Mallet as the Octopus
Mireille Mosse as Martha
Serge Merlin as Gabriel Marie
Francois Hadji-Lazaro as a Cyclops
Rufus as the watchman
Ticky Holgado as the carny
and Jean-Louis Trintignant as Irvin
American audiences probably best know French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet for the recent romantic comedy Amelie, and genre fans likely recognize him as the director of the much-maligned Alien Resurrection. But before he made those two movies, Jeunet, along with directing partner Marc Caro, made a pair of French films that put him on the map: Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. Watching the second film, it is clear from where the colorful, stylized images of Alien Resurrection came: Jeunet & Caro.
The surreal, fairy-tale plot of The City of Lost Children is simple, and secondary to the way it is told. A circus strongman, One (Ron Perlman, Blade II), teams up with an orphan, the urchin thief Miette (Judith Vittet), to rescue his baby brother, the silent-but-flatulent Denree (Joseph Lucien), from the clutches of a madman.
That kidnapper, the evil genius Krank (Daniel Emilfork, The Devil’s Nightmare), takes children to steal their dreams because he cannot have any, which has caused the premature aging that is killing him. But his isolated existence on a far-off oil rig — with a dwarf woman, six clones and a brain that lives in a fish tank — is jeopardized when a cult known as the Cyclops steal Denree.
That sends Denree’s simple-minded brother on a quest to find the child — a quest that will bring him and his tiny companion face-to-face with not just the Cyclops and the denizens of the rig, but with the bizarre conjoined-woman Octopus, a deadly flea circus, an amnesiac deep-sea diver and more.
The acting is strong, featuring the always solid Perlman and the brooding Emilfork, plus the entertaining Dominique Pinon — who rejoined Perlman and Jeunet in Alien Resurrection — as the comedic clones. Veteran French director Jean-Louis Trintignant does a fine job providing the sonorous voice for the disembodied brain Irvin.
However, it is Vittet who steals the film as Miette — in a kid-sister/would-be-lover role reminiscent of the relationship between Natalie Portman and Jean Reno in another French film, Leon. Her character is the wiser member of the duo, and this 9-year-old girl remarkably captures the streetwise maturity of the role, showing spunk, determination and ample range. (Unfortunately, the IMDB lists no acting credits for her since 1997, so it appears high school may have put her career on hold.)
But what truly stands out about The City of Lost Children is neither its story nor its acting, but its remarkable images. The color palette of the city is a drab one of grays and browns, yet it is full of life and startling moments of bright color. And the strange nature of the world Jeunet & Caro create offers them plenty of opportunity to craft remarkable, memorable images and setpieces, including a tear that sets off a chain reaction of epic proportion.
Even the actors themselves contribute to the film’s distinctive look: the hulking, lantern-jawed Perlman; the bald, thin-faced Emilfork; the dwarf woman Mireille Mosse; the twitchy Jean-Claude Dreyfus; the imperious twins Genevieve Brunet and Odile Mallet; the Cyclops (including Francois Hadji-Lazaro of cult favorite Cemetery Man) with one milky, blind eye and one mechanical; and so on.
The beauty of the film is in what the audience sees as they follows One on his quest, and that is what makes this surreal city worth visiting.
Video and Audio:
This is a film that depends on its image, and the quality of the DVD is more than serviceable. Given the older nature of the disc, the picture is not the near-perfect one you might expect from a recent film, but it is strong nonetheless. Blacks are solid, colors from muted to bright are vivid, and sharpness and clarity are excellent. There is a bit of print damage here and there, but no digital or compression issues.
There is a soft feel to the picture, but it appears to be the film itself, and not the DVD. Nevertheless, it takes some getting used to — and any initial disappointment or concern at the picture quickly gives way to a respect for its true quality.
The widescreen version is, regrettably, not anamorphic. There is a full-screen version on the flip side — but this film is a prime example of why seeing the entire frame as intended is desirable.
The original French audio is a Dolby 2.0 track that gets the job done. There is little need for surrounds or rumbling bass, and they are seldom missed. Dialogue is clear and the occasional bit of carnival music is appropriately boisterous. Only a late-film explosion underwhelms, the lone drawback to the track.
There are also an English Dolby 2.0 track and a Spanish 2-channel stereo track. There are English, Spanish and French subtitles.
Back in the early days of DVD, such items as “animated menus” and “chapter selections” often were listed as special features. As such, it is surprising Columbia TriStar failed to tout the audio commentary present on the disc — it is not listed anywhere on the packaging, and can only be found in the special features menu. Jeunet and Perlman both speak English on the track — which the French director handles well, with a bit of help from his assistant, Christine. The track is fairly commonplace, with few dead spots and a decent amount of interesting information about both the technical aspect and the film itself. One thing that shines through is both men’s enthusiasm for the film, even during their most brutally honest moments, as they look back at it some six years after it was made.
Given the film’s striking look, it is nice to see a pair of (too brief) image galleries included, one featuring Jean-Paul Gaultier’s costume designs and the other a series of black-and-white production sketches. The included theatrical trailer also focuses on the film’s unique look, while abstaining from any dialogue.
A handful of brief cast and crew biographies round out the features.
Genre fans who wondered how the makers of Alien Resurrection chose Jeunet need look no further than this film. The City of Lost Children is a real treat for the eyes — a must-see for anyone who appreciates the very best a director’s vision has to offer.
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