The City of Lost Children
***.8 GM
Starring: Judith Vittet, Joseph Lucien, Ron Perlman, Daniel Emilfork, Dominique Pinon

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I'm as big a doofus as a lot of people sometimes, which means I always have an initial gut hesitation when it comes to foreign language films, even after "Life Is Beautiful" was such an amazing piece of work. I guess that for every "Life Is Beautiful," there might be a "Romance," and I'm always a little fearful. But having seen "Delicatessen," the other film from Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and thinking that was pretty amusing (when my aversion to foreign film was even stronger than it is now), I wanted to check this out, and I'm damn glad I did.

The story revolves around a mad scientist named Krank who lives in a remote fortress in the middle of the sea with his wife/experiment-gone-wrong Bismuth, their goofy-looking clones, and a brain in a tank that talks and gets migraines. He's a sinister mad scientist in that he kidnaps children off the streets with his legions of cycloptic cyborgs, in the attempt to discover why he never has any dreams. He hooks them up to machinery, trying to take their dreams as his own, but they only give him nightmares, since the kids are all terrified to be around him and away from home. A little burpy boy named Denree, who is not afraid of him at all, seems to be the perfect choice for the experiments, but the boy has a protector - a slow-witted strongman named One, who befriends a girl named Miette, a skilled thief who has long since abandoned trusting adults after being forced to rob people and give the pickings to these creepy siamese twins joined at the foot - who does not want to stop at anything to get Denree back.

The visuals are incredible, dark and moody, in that exaggerated Tim Burton style. Child actors can be very dangerous to center on, but Judith Vittet as Miette was magnetic and powerful, while Joseph Lucien as Denree was the perfect obliviously funny kid. Ron Perlman's One is effective as well, and Daniel Emilfork's Krank is disturbing and frightening, which is played up even when he's trying to calm the children down and make them happy with a Christmastime Santa Claus caper. Dominique Pinon may have the best part of the movie - not only playing the four bumbling clones that fear and obey Krank, but playing the crazy deep-sea-diver that spawned them in the first place, and he's got the right amount of goofy in his face and mannerisms to make them funny.

It takes a little adjusting to, but once you're into this world, you won't regret going there. It's imaginative, original, interesting, and to use a dumb reviewer cliche - "It's a visual feast!"

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