The City of Lost Children / La Cité des enfants perdus
d. Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro / France / 1997 / 112 mins
Viewed at: Screen 3 @ Cinema City (Norwich, UK)

Still from The City of Lost Children

My, oh my! What can I say about The City of Lost Children?

I should probably start by admitting that it has long been a particular favourite of mine. Ever since I first set eyes on this darkly comic, wildly fantastic slice of cinematic spectacle from the unparalleled partnership of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, I have been utterly enamored with every single frame.

And by sheer coincidence, this is not a film that I just happened to have stumbled across on DVD, or had recommended by a friend just a couple of years back. Nope, I came to this film (and Jeunet and Caro) thanks to the (half) French family who lived across the road when I was growing up, and with whom I spent large chunks of my childhood. (A French family across the road is surely something of an oddity in itself, since I grew up in a tiny – and I mean, tiny – country town in South Australia.)

Anyway, this family had a television, but it was strictly for watching films. Even if you wanted to watch television, there wasn’t the aerial required to get anything approximating decent reception in our neck of the woods.

Each week, their parents would return from some mystical video store in the big smoke (probably Kino, I suppose) with a selection of weird and wonderful films from around the world. And so it was here that I first encountered The City of Lost Children, with repeated viewings ensuring that every visual nuance was burned into my retina. (I also vaguely recall, on one multi-family trip into Adelaide, a rather excited discussion amongst the adults about some film called Breaking the Waves. Who knew?)

As something of a side note, I should mention that the Father of this family (he was the French half), actually worked on films as a set decorator and scenic artist, plying his trade on everything from TV miniseries to Kevin Costner’s ill-fated Easter Island epic, Rapa Nui.

And although I don’t necessarily remember a specific desire to work on (or with) films at that stage of my life, I was certainly fascinated by them and keenly interested in how they were constructed. Of course, mixed in there somewhere was a similar fascination with my own Father’s background working at the Festival Theatre in Adelaide. Besides all that, I was perfectly happy writing horrible poetry and taking photographs. Film was just another way to pass the time.

And yet somehow, growing up in this tiny country town, my life still managed to intersect with the business of moving image production. Were it not for a family trip to Darwin (without my eldest sister, who was clearly too cool for us by that stage), I would have appeared as an extra on Golden Fiddles, a miniseries adapted from a Mary Grant Bruce novel. In fact, I vaguely recall that we received the news just as we reached Darwin (by car), and I distinctly remember being quite annoyed that, sparked by the auditions in the local pub a few weeks before, my movie star ambitions were over as soon as they had begun.

A few years later, I remember watching with barely contained awe as a production crew conjured up – with a strange balletic grace – The Battlers, another TV mini-series shot in my hometown. In fact, I still have that Gary Sweet autograph somewhere.

But where was I? Oh yes, The City of Lost Children!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, even after all this time, Jeunet and Caro’s film still has a strange hold over me. Over ten years have passed by, and I still find it as visually stunning as the very first time (all credit to Caro, really – the unsung hero of the partnership, especially considering Jeunet’s subsequent success).

Everything about this film reeks of greatness, from Caro’s production design, to Ron Perlman’s performance, to Jean-Paul Gaultier’s costumery, to Angelo Badalamenti’s fantasic score, to the fact that we get treated to not just one, but four (FOUR!) Dominique Pinons! Top class, all the way!

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