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Film / The City of Lost Children

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"Who has stolen the child's dream?
The mad genius Krank in his evil scheme.
To what vicious depths will he not descend?
Will the tale turn to tragedy...
or have a happy end?"

The City of Lost Children is a 1995 French science-fiction film directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who also directed the similarly dark and surreal Delicatessen.

The film follows a circus strongman, One (played by Ron Perlman), and a streetwise orphan, Miette, in their attempts to save One's adopted little brother from Krank (Daniel Emilfork), a mad scientist who steals dreams.

It opened at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adorable Evil Minions: The six cloned brothers.
  • Anti-Villain: Krank suffers everything his victims do in his failed experiments, is totally incapable of understanding why even his kindest acts only frighten the children, is shown to be deeply affected by Uncle Irvin's insults, and is the way he is because something went wrong in his creation. Even at his worst, his condition is so pitiable, it's heartbreaking.
  • Artificial Human: Krank and his compatriots.
  • The Atoner: Marcello. After he leaves Miette to drown in the docks, he becomes overwhelmed with guilt. When she resurfaces, alive, he is overjoyed, and does everything he can to help her and One for the rest of the story.
  • Badass and Child Duo: A circus strongman and a streetwise urchin teaming up.
  • Bad Santa: When he invades the children's dreams, Krank often (unintentionally) appears this way.
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  • Big Brother Instinct: One has this, first for Denrée and then for Miette. He identifies Denrée as his brother, but there's no genetic link between them. He found the kid in a garbage can.
  • Big Eater: Denrée. Played for cuteness. He has an insatiable appetite, he spends pretty much all of his screen time eating or burping, and then eating some more.
  • The Big Guy: One, who is a circus strongman.
  • Big "NO!": One combines this with Skyward Scream when seeing tied-up Miette falling from the plank into the water to her certain death.
  • The Blind Leading the Blind: A literal example with the blind leader of the Cyclops preaching to the others that they will eventually regain their sight by following his orders.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Martha has this as she's dying. Justified as she was impaled through the abdomen with a harpoon, which obviously did a fair bit of internal damage.
  • Brain in a Jar:
    • Uncle Irvin's talkative Deadpan Snarker brain is stored in a jar in Krank's lab. And he has migraines.
    • We also see severed heads (presumably from failed clones) in jars.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: One becomes brainwashed by the Octopus and almost kills Miette.
  • Cannot Dream: Krank's dire dilemma that sets off the plot.
  • City with No Name
  • Cloning Blues: Six cloned brothers serve Krank, and they're not sure which is the original. It's none of them — it's the Diver.
  • Conjoined Twins: The Octopus.
  • Crapsack World: The city is depicted as ugly and polluted and bearing an extremely grim atmosphere, the police force is incompetent enough so that children are constantly kidnapped by Krank's associates, the Cyclops organization practically terrorizes the entire city and no one seems to have guts to stop them and citizens are occasionally mugged by the kids under the control of the Octopus.
  • Creepy Circus Music: Marcello's music box, which additionally hypnotizes drugged victims into violence.
  • Creepy Twins: The creepy twin teachers speaking in unison.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Inverted; an elaborate series of chained events ends up saving One and Miette from the Octopus.
  • Dream Intro: The opening nightmare scene turns out to be part of an experiment done on a test subject in Krank's lab.
  • Dream Stealer: What Krank has become.
  • Dumb Muscle: It's strongly suggested that One is developmentally challenged.
  • Emotionless Girl: Miette starts off as this.
  • Expendable Clone: Inverted: all the clones survive, while the Inventor dies.
  • The Fagin: The Octopus's side job.
  • Faux Fluency: Ron Perlman was the only American in the film and memorized all his lines, since he did not speak French. He did an excellent job from all accounts.
  • Fearless Fool: Denrée is explicitly said to be fearless, because he's too gluttonous to care about anything else other than food.
  • Gasshole: Denrée burps quite a few times in the movie, probably because of his constant gorging.
  • Gentle Giant: One.
  • Glass-Shattering Sound: When Krank screams out in the opening scene, we see glass in his lab breaking.
  • Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: Krank's lab has loads of goodies, including severed heads (presumably from failed clones) in jars.
  • Harpoon Gun: The Diver saves Miette by shooting Martha with one.
  • Hesitant Sacrifice: At least, blowing up the lab in a suicide attack was the Diver's original plan. Seeing his notes drift into the sea makes him change his mind, and he frantically calls out to his clones and Uncle Irvin, who are busy following One and the kids back to the city. Then a seagull lands on the plunger for his dynamite...
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Octopus, Krank, and the Diver.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: One and Miette. Also Krank and Martha (Mademoiselle Bismuth).
  • Hulk Speak: One
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Martha is killed when the Diver impales her on a harpoon in probably the goriest scene of the movie. Rather nastily played more realistically in that she doesn't instantly die but is incapacitated by pain and left bleeding from the mouth from internal damage for some time before dying.
  • Inappropriate Hunger: Denrée, it's made clear that he cares about nothing but stuffing his face but still. The ship is going to blow up in less than a minute, but Denrée is hungry.
  • Industrial Ghetto: The titular city, the industry in question being a huge port.
  • Instrument of Murder: The music box.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: One and Miette.
  • Iris Out: The movie ends with this visual effect.
  • Jabba Table Manners: Denrée. Makes sense, considering how much of a Big Eater he is, he's just trying to stuff as much food in his mouth as fast as possible. He eats with his hands, munches with his mouth hanging open, and he stuffs so much food in his gob that his cheeks look like they're about to burst!
  • Karmic Death: The Octopus tries to brainwash One into killing Miette with Marcello's mind control fleas and when that fails attempts to burn them alive. Marcello kills the Octopus by making the twins fight with his fleas and fall into the same oil slick they were trying to use to kill One and Miette then igniting it.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Octopus attempts to burn One and Miette alive. Marcello then proceeds to kill the Octopus the exact same way.
  • Little People Are Surreal: Martha adds on to the overall bizarre cast of characters
  • Mad Scientist: Krank and his creator, the Diver.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Uncle Irving turns out to be this.
  • Meaningful Name: Krank is German for sick, Denrée is French for foodstuff.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Cyclops leader has more than a touch of Hitler in his oration. His appearance is also more than a little reminiscent of Chairman Mao.
  • Pest Controller: Marcello has trained flea assassins that inject a target with a tiny amount of a drug that makes the victim violent and easy to manipulate with his music.
  • Putting on the Reich: The black leather trenchcoats the Cyclops wear have a very Gestapo vibe.
  • Older Than They Look: Krank's dreaming incapability is causing him to age rapidly.
  • Ouroboros: Also a case of Symbol Motif Clothing. Towards the end, there is a close-up of Krank's ring that shows a serpent eating its own tail, which represents life, death, self-destruction and immortality.
  • Rapid Aging: What ends up happening to Krank and Miette in the dreamworld. This is happening to Krank at a slower pace due to his inability to dream.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When Krank is still trying to figure out why he can’t dream, Uncle Irvin suggests analyzing his tears. After the clones fail to make Krank cry with laughter, Uncle Irvin gives one of these to him (and offhandedly Martha, the clones, and himself) in the form of a fairytale to try to make him cry with despair. It actually works.
    Uncle Irvin: Once upon a time, there was an inventor so gifted, that he could create life. Truly remarkable man. Since he had no wife or children, he decided to make them in his laboratory. He started with his wife, and fashioned her into the most beautiful princess in the world. Alas, a wicked genetic fairy cast a spell on the inventor, so much so that the princess was only knee-high to a grasshopper. He then cloned six children in his own image. Faithful, hardworking, they were so alike no one could tell them apart. But fate tricked him again, giving them all sleeping sickness. Craving someone to talk to, he grew in a fish tank a poor migraine-ridden brain. And then, at last, he created his masterpiece; more intelligent than the most intelligent man on Earth. But, alas, the inventor made a serious mistake. While his creation was intelligent, he, too, had a defect. He never, ever had a dream. You can’t imagine how quickly he grew old because he was so unhappy.
    (Krank begins to cry, and Martha collects his tears with an eye dropper)
    Uncle Irvin: Then the poor masterpiece became so crazed, that he believed a single teardrop could save him. And, after committing many cruel deeds, he died a horrible death, never knowing what it is to dream.
  • Redemption Equals Death: After the Octopus catch Marcello helping One and Miette, they tell their henchman to kill him. We hear two shotgun blasts as they walk out. Then it's subverted when we learn that the henchman fired into the air, sparing Marcello.
  • Serpent of Immortality: See Ouroboros above.
  • Single-Minded Twins: The Octopus, a pair of conjoined twins.
  • Skyward Scream: One does this when he thinks Miette has drowned.
  • Sleepy Head: The six clones were created with a narcoleptic-like "sleeping sickness" that causes to doze off randomly
  • Steampunk / Diesel Punk: Sort of.
  • Suicide Attack: The Diver blows up the lab with a suicide bombing at the end.
  • Tears of Remorse: Marcello when confronted by Miette who he left to die under order of the Octopus.
  • Third-Person Person / Hulk Speak: One talks like this, conveying that he is Dumb Muscle (and also justifying Ron Perlman's not-great accent).
  • Turned Against Their Masters: Apart of the creators origin.
  • Twin Telepathy: The Octopus, to the point of being practically a Hive Mind.
  • The Voiceless: Denrée never talks, the only things that leave his mouth are extremely loud belches.
  • Walk the Plank: The mooks arrange a Death Trap where One and Miette are bound up and placed on a plank.
  • Water Is Air: The Diver lives permanently at the bottom of the sea near the harbor, collecting flotsam, jetsam and derelict.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Miette, who considers One to be her little brother.