J’ai fait un rêve étrange
(I had a weird dream)
–Miette

Wild jackals couldn’t drag us to see Gods of Egypt, so we’re reaching back to 1995, and one of the great fantasy / SF nightmares in cinematic history, The City of Lost Children. Disturbing, hilarious, and crazily inventive, the film landed at 138 in your ranking of the Greatest SF Films.

Title: La cité des enfants perdus

Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Written by Gilles Adrien and Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Cast
Ron Perlman as One
Judith Vittet as Miette
Daniel Emilfork as Krank
Geneviève Brunet and Odile Mallet as the Octopus (la Pieuvre)
Dominique Pinon as the clones
Jean-Claude Dreyfus as Marcello
Rufus as Peeler
Joseph Lucien as Denree
Mireille Mossé as Martha
Serge Merlin as The Chief of the Cyclops
Jean-Louis Trintignant as the voice of Uncle Irvin
Ticky Holgado as Ex-acrobat
Marc Caro as Brother Ange-Joseph
Mapi Galán as Lune
Briac Barthélémy as Bottle
Pierre-Quentin Faesch as Pipo
Alexis Pivot as Tadpole
Léo Rubion as Jeannot
Lorella Cravotta as Woman
Ham-Chau Luong as Tattooed Man

Available from Amazon, Blu-Ray and DVD.

Premise:

A sideshow strongman and a world-weary street urchin join forces to find the strongman’s adopted brother, one of several children kidnapped by a body-modifying cult to serve a mad scientist’s dream.

High Point:

The film has a human story at its heart, but most people recall its bewildering set pieces: the inventive method used to obtain a key, for example, and the Butterfly Effect created by a single tear.

Low Points

I really like this film, but I acknowledge that its deliberate weirdness often obscures the story, and some viewers will find the first half more frustrating than engaging.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 The influence of Terry Gilliam, steampunk, classic fairy tale/quest literature, and the Gothic tradition seems clear enough, but this film twists its component parts in brilliantly inventive ways.

Effects: 6/6 The film features a then-groundbreaking mix of practical effects and CGI, and they still look good.

Acting: 6/6 Ron Perlman spoke almost no French when hired to play the part, and nevertheless makes it a convincing One. Eleven-year-old Judith Vittet gives such an incredible performance I was surprised to learn she had so few subsequent acting credits. Reportedly, however, she chose other pursuits to acting. Her character recalls, just a little, Zazie, the protagonist of Louis Malle’s Zazi dans le Métro, the terribly odd comedy that became a cultural phenomenon in early-1960s France.

Production: 6/6

Story: 5/6 The plot, like the world in which it has been set, is stylized. Even given this fact, the number of odd happenstances that allow events to proceed becomes a little tiring. Overall however, The City of Lost Children holds together remarkably well.

Emotional Response: 5/6 Imagine that Terry Gilliam directed a late Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, penned by French surrealists and made, inexplicably, with a budget. You watch it while coming off a really strong post-op opoid. When you return to your senses you realize the story actually does work.

That’s kind of like the effect of this film.

Overall: 5/6

In total, La cité des enfants perdus receives 37/42