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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

La Cité des enfants perdus

 English Title: The City of Lost Children

Normally I know exactly what to say about a film, I know whether it was good, know what and why the plot was, and know whether I liked it, often different from the actual quality of the film. But this is just strange. It's a french film with its own unique visual style and flair, and it just defies explanations in parts. Given a one sentence summary I guess I'd say Frankenstein (the novel) meets the Triplets of Belville (a french animated film which I highly recommend) and maybe some Terry Gilliam for good measure. I'm kind of weirded out by the style though, because it acts like a children's film at many parts, from just the cinematography to the prevalence of child actors, it seems like a kids flick, then a man gets stabbed in the eye and watches himself die. It's just beyond genres.

The film begins with a very familiar scene, Santa coming down the chimney to a little kid watching. Then another Santa comes down, and another and another, until the room is filled with them and the child begins crying. Children crying is a fairly common theme throughout the film, and I do have to wonder what they did to get the kids so miserable, did they rip up their toys? Did they tell them their parents were dead? I don't know, and I don't particularly want to. Anyway this is just a dream sequence, stolen from a kid because the main villain of the feature can not dream, being artificially created, and thus without a soul.

Some deep themes are kind of glossed over by the film, like the nature of clones, and the importance of being original, the whole dreamscape as a metaphor, and what family means, but like I said, they're mentioned in passing, with no real analysis or anything. Getting back to the plot their is a jump to a street in some kind of clockwork city, almost Steampunk but maybe a little more advanced, in that they seem to have a typical 9 mm pistol at one point, so I'm not sure just what they're going for. So throughout the story there are two parallel places, the main city with our protagonist searching for his lost little brother, and the island in the middle of the ocean, where kidnapped kids are used to give the antagonist dreams.

The protagonist is essentially a Frankenstein, whose name is One, who has lost his little brother to these dream-nappers. Throughout his journey to find him he finds a little girl named Crumb, and they go on a grand search. Eventually they arrive at the home of some cult, police thing, I'm not really sure and its never explained. All of them have one steam punk eye predator type thing, and have super sensitive hearing leaving them extremely vulnerable to anything that can scream, like the children they try to take. Then the duo is subjected to an extremely weird method of execution. Essentially it's a walk the plank thing, but with a huge basket of fish on one side so the gulls slowly make them walk the plank, with the executioners betting on who will die first.

The film has grim moments like this, but it also is quite idealistic, with all the bad guys being punished and no real good guys dieing, despite situations that would warrant it. So after this failed execution the duo are tracked down by a cruel orphan mistress (or mistresses, its two people connected at the hip) and their is some attempted homicide going down, especially cruel in that they try to make One strangle Crumb, and with all logic it should have worked, she should have been dead, but some Rude Goldbergesque antics trigger an enormous boat crashing through the dock to save them.

Another note about the film is all the women in the film are monsters, whores, or children. Not only are all the women portrayed negatively, aside from the little girl protagonist, but anyone with a speaking line is a villain, or at the very least an antagonist of some sort. In all likelihood it's just a coincidence, but nevertheless it's a weird one. So a guy from earlier comes by and pushes the evil women into a lake of oil they had been creating, and delivers some karmic justice? I don't know, it's not really ironic or anything, but it's made out to be that way.

So the duo is saved, and eventually reaches the island, where Grizzly Adams had been setting up explosives, and plans to blow the whole thing up, then he realizes that he had come there to save kids, not kill them. So Crumb heads up and goes into One's brothers dream, and saves him, as well as killing the antagonist somehow, or maybe he died from natural causes, again not really clear. Then they all row off in boats, leaving behind only Grizzly Adams, apparently the original scientist who created the whole island and what not to blow himself up. This is played for laughs, which is really weird as he begins begging them to let him go, and to come back for him before he blows up but then the film ends, so happy ending?

I don't know I just really don't. It was not really a happy film, or a sad one, it just kind of existed. There was some murder, some thievery, and occasional debauchery as well as a little bit of implied Pedophilia, but I think its meant to be a happy tale, with all the good guys alive and safe, and the bad guys dead or gone. Of course the orphans now have no means to get food or shelter because they killed the only one providing it, and there are a whole lot more now, as well as the evil "Cyclops" who are still around, so I guess it's kind of bittersweet. I like the visual design, that's what I know for sure. The characters are all exaggerated immensely, as are the environments, so it is a very artistically and aesthetically pleasing film, but the plot and the skirting of the big issues leave much to be desired.

See it if you prefer style over substance, but if you need a good, sensible plot and good character development, look elsewhere.

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