The City of Lost Children (1995) is Equal Parts Brilliant and Bizarre
So, usually when I do a movie review I start by writing a synopsis, but this film was so kooky I actually had trouble following the plot while I was watching. And I was even watching it dubbed in English rather than the original French! It reminded me in some ways of Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidoqc, but Vidoqc was made later so the sets and special effects were even better.
But, and this is a strong but, that does not mean that it is not worth seeing. There are some absolutely fabulous scenes and moments, like watching a pair Siamese twins cooking who are so in sync one tastes the food and the other seasons it. There are definitely times I said “huh?” but just as many times that I laughed or said “wow!” instead. A combination huh?/wow! was when I realized the main character, a Lenny-like circus strongman on the hunt for his little brother, was played by Ron Perlman who also played Hellboy. Small world! I have no idea what he was doing in a French movie in the 90’s, and when I looked up his career on IMDB I found out he was also in the 1996 production of The Island of Doctor Moreau that I have been trying to get on Netflix to no avail.
So here is a short synopsis, and then I encourage you to see for yourself. One, which is the only name the strongman ever goes by, has his 4-year-old adopted brother stolen in the night by strange men who are blind without their clockwork eyes. One meets a band of street urchins and befriends a little girl named Miette. Keep in mind while you are watching that the strongman is dumb but innocent and kindly. So the times that he touches Miette that might make you raise your eyebrow (he rubs her foot at one point for example) he is really like a big sad puppy dog giving her a slobber and know that nothing weird ever happens.
The child-stealers (a la the Gobblers in the Golden Compass) are taking the children to be part of an experiment. There was a scientist who was manipulating genes and growing humans in his laboratory, but he has gone and left his creations behind. The de facto leader of the creations is Krank, who suffers from a defect because the experiment that made him left him incomplete: he cannot dream. And his inability to dream has accelerated his aging process, so he is using his “father’s” machines to steal dreams from others. But alas, the children are so afraid that they give him only nightmares. Until he meets One’s little brother, that is…
Other characters include a set of at least 8 identical twins/clones, the aforementioned Siamese twins who want Miette dead, an assassin who uses fleas to deploy a deadly poison and a talking brain in a fish tank.