Jeunet’s style from dream-catchers to cannibals

The City of Lost Children (1995), directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro depicts a shadowy and threatening world in which a tortured genius steals children’s dreams. The directors pack the two-hour long film with conjoined twins, a brain in a fish tank, Santa Claus, and plank walks; elements that cloud Jeunet’s surrealist world with mystery. That world might look strikingly familiar to those who frequent dark, post-apocalyptic foreign films. More specifically, it might look a lot like French film Delicatessen. Rightly so. The films were released a mere four years apart, and work together to establish Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s remarkably unique style. Delicatessen adequately prepares Jeunet’s audience for City. The two films beautifully depict abnormal, terrifying, yet entertaining alternate realities in which anything is possible and nothing goes right.

Despite the mesmerizing visuals and unique set, perhaps even more distinctive is Ron Perlman’s role as “One.” This American actor has an impressive and extensive resume ranging from video game voice overs to stage plays to feature films. To gamers, he is the voice of countless villains. To us Americans, he is Hellboy. To the French, he is Mr. One. Mr. One, despite his size and intimidating demeanor, is a big softie. His purpose in City of Lost Children is to track down the object of his love and affection: his little brother Denrée. It is a bizarre and touching experience to see Hellboy so generous and loving toward children. While searching for his little brother, he forges a strong emotional bond with a feisty little girl named Miette, who possesses more wit and maturity than One himself. She is determined to help him find his little brother, and the two become inseparable. Along the way, One deems her “little sister.” This heartwarming moment stands out amidst a film about emotionless adults that treat children as if they are subhuman. Miette smiles at One’s comment, perhaps for the first time in the film. This event solidifies a unique bond between two contradictory characters.

Due to his bond with Miette and attachment to his beloved little brother, One wins the hearts of the audience. Similar to Delicatessen, Jeunet captures his viewers’ affection with a central sympathetic character. One is taken advantage of and exploited for his physical strength, and fights constantly to continue his journey. The audience roots for him not only to find his brother, but to break free from chains society puts him in (in the beginning of the film, One breaks out of heavy metal chains as part of a circus act; a very obvious representation of the public abuse he endures). In Delicatessen, an unassuming ex-clown named Louison applies for a vacant position at a butcher shop. Knowing that the butcher plans on killing the clown, the audience becomes emotionally attached to Louison. In addition to the stylistic similarities, the two main characters draw many parallels between the films. Jeunet has a clear affinity for dark, surrealist worlds in which innocent people are taken advantage of. The City of Lost Children will surely keep the audience guessing and hoping, and Ron Perlman provides us with an emotional journey that far surpasses that of Delicatessen.

Check out Ron Perlman’s endless resume here.

by Laura Kinter

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