Director: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Screenplay: Gilles Adrien, Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring: Ron Perlman, Daniel Emilfork, Judith Vittet, Dominique Pinon, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Geneviève Brunet, Odile Mallet, Mireille Mossé
Country: France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, USA
Running Time: 112 min
Year: 1995
BBFC Certificate: 15

Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro met at an animation festival in Annecy in the 1970s and began to team up regularly, initially making animated shorts before gradually moving on to live-action ones.

Their first feature-length film together was Delicatessen, released in 1991. This proved to be a big critical and commercial hit (the latter in France, at least), allowing the pair to revisit a script they’d developed back in 1982. Named The City of Lost Children, this screenplay seemed far too ambitious and expensive to make back then but now they had the clout to drum up a sizable budget, they set to work.

Unfortunately, the film wasn’t well received in France and ended up failing to recoup its costs. The City of Lost Children fared better overseas though and, whilst it didn’t make a huge amount of money, it become a minor cult hit. This helped lead the pair to get the job of directing Alien Resurrection, though Caro soon dropped out, unhappy with working on such a big studio picture.

The City of Lost Children is a film I loved when it was released. I was a fan of what I’d seen of the cinéma du look movement (of which this is linked), particularly the films of Luc Besson, and adored Delicatessen, so this very much fed to my tastes.

So, when I heard that Studiocanal would be releasing a newly remastered edition of The City of Lost Children on UHD and Blu-ray, I was thrilled. It had been a long time since I’d seen the film though, so I had a slight worry it wouldn’t live up to expectations. To see whether or not this was the case, I got hold of a screener and dove in.

Set in a grim, dark, dystopian world, The City of Lost Children opens by introducing us to the inhabitants of an old oil rig. These are a motley crew of characters, all of whom have been created by a now-missing scientist. There’s the brain-in-a-fishtank Irvin (voiced by Jean-Louis Trintignant), the diminutively-statured Mademoiselle Bismuth (Mireille Mossé) and a set of clones (all played by Jeunet-regular Dominique Pinon). Leading the bunch, however, is Krank (Daniel Emilfork), who’s somewhat of a mad scientist himself.

Unfortunately, Krank is cursed with an affliction that rapidly ages him and also prevents him from having dreams. To tackle the latter, hoping it may also slow his ageing, Krank gets his lackeys to kidnap children from the local harbour town, so that he can steal their dreams. The problem is, after they’ve met him in his dank lair, they only ever provide nightmares.

Among the stolen children is Denree (Joseph Lucien), the young brother of the simple-minded carnival strongman One (Ron Perlman). The elder brother attempts to chase down the strange Cyclops cult members who took Denree, but to no avail. He does, however, fall in with Miette/Crumb (Judith Vittet) and her fellow orphans, who are hired as thieves by the evil Octopus (a set of conjoined twins played by Geneviève Brunet and Odile Mallet).

Miette knows the town much better than One and, feeling sympathy for him, agrees to help the strong, simple man to find his little brother.

Well, I needn’t have worried, because I still liked The City of Lost Children a great deal. Now I’m older (but maybe not much wiser), I can see some faults in the film though. A lot of critics have complained that the story is confusing and, whilst I could follow it, I do agree it can feel a little jumbled, particularly in the opening sections of the film. Jeunet himself admits that he thinks it doesn’t start very well and it takes a while to understand what’s going on. He blames the tight schedule and pressure they were under, working on such a complicated and expensive production.

However, once you get into the film’s ‘groove’ there’s much to enjoy.

First and foremost, it’s a film that’s visually jaw-dropping. Utilising a unique colour palette (at the time) that somehow manages to look both dingy and beautiful, it’s a masterful symbiosis of steampunk-esque production design (with costumes courtesy of Jean Paul Gaultier) and stunningly well-executed cinematography from the great Darius Khondji (who would go on to be a legend in his field).

A lot of computer-generated visual effects were used too, most of which were new at the time, particularly in French cinema. These have aged surprisingly well as they’re only ever used appropriately and are bathed in enough darkness to hide any flaws.

Angelo Badalementi backs up the visual style with a wonderful score that perfectly encapsulates the mood of the film.

Tonally, the film is deliciously dark and occasionally quite frightening but with plenty of twisted and surreal humour thrown in to keep the creepy fairy tale eminently watchable. Particularly enjoyable are the Rube Goldberg-inspired sequences, of which there are many. Most notable is a lengthy one that starts with a teardrop falling before taking a long journey around the town and then heading back to the start point.

Such a quirky and stylised film could threaten to feel slight and substanceless but, whilst many of the ideas explored, such as the danger of playing God and the power of dreams, are skimmed over, the film does have a strong core holding it together. It’s the brother-sister relationship that develops between One and Miette that provides the heart and soul of the film. It threatens to get creepy in places, due to the age gap and Miette’s loving gazes at One, but, generally, it’s touching to see these lost souls drawn together. It certainly helps anchor the otherwise wild and bizarre story.

Overall, The City of Lost Children is a beautifully realised dark fairy tale that’s filled with wonderfully grotesque and unique touches and enough heart to keep the film from feeling like an empty exercise in style. It’s well worth revisiting if, like me, you’ve not seen it in a long while, and if you’ve not seen it before, do so.


The City of Lost Children is out on 4K UHD & Blu-ray on 3rd April in the UK, released by Studiocanal. I watched the Blu-ray version and it looks stunning. It offers a clear, sharp picture with rich colours. It’s a 4K transfer that appears to have been approved by Jeunet and Caro themselves, if their interview on the disc is anything to go by.


– New Interview with directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro
– Behind the scenes
– Interview with designer Jean Paul Gaultier
– Audio commentary with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet

The commentary with Jeunet is wonderful. The co-director guides us through the making of the film, pointing out lots of interesting tidbits along the way, such as where you can spot Mathieu Kassovitz in the background. He’d shown up on set to have a look so was drafted in as an extra. Jeunet is also honest about scenes he doesn’t think work.

The new interview with Jeunet and Caro begins by discussing the restoration before diving into a range of questions about the production. The pair later talk about why their working relationship ended after the film. It’s a rich piece that is especially worthwhile for including Caro, who’s largely absent from a lot of the material here.

The 26-minute ‘Making Of’ piece is a fairly typical archive EPK featurette, blending behind-the-scenes footage with talking heads interviews. However, it’s well-produced and offers a wonderful chance to see the workings of a unique and lavish production. I enjoyed seeing the direction of the Cyclops meeting, for instance. It felt like a conductor leading an orchestra. Seeing the team working with the young actor playing Grub is also fun.

On top of that piece, there’s a 13-minute collection of raw behind-the-scenes material. It makes for a fascinating watch, as it seems to cover a wider range than the longer piece, including more pre-production footage, such as audition tapes and rehearsals.

The interview with Jean Paul Gaultier is only brief, at 3-and-a-half minutes, but gives some idea of his approach to the costume design, as well as his inspirations and working relationship with Caro.

So, it’s a fine package, with plenty of valuable extra material. There isn’t a lot that wasn’t included in earlier editions, but the new transfer is likely a big improvement (I’m afraid I don’t have the earlier Blu-ray to compare, though it looks a lot better than the original DVD). As such, it’s a must-buy.


The City of Lost Children - Studiocanal
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