The City of Lost Children ★★

1995 Cannes Film Festival--Opening Night (In Competition)

What if Jeunet and Caro are just near-sighted? Maybe the world beyond an optometrist's distance is simply imperceptible to them, and they position their grotesques accordingly. One in the extreme foreground, a couple fastidiously placed behind him to balance the frame. I'm all for avoiding shot-reverse shot, but this single compositional idea informs so much of The City of Lost Children that it becomes its own formula, and a particularly oppressive one at that.

This is the kind of film often praised as being visionary but which fails to envision a plot that advances on its intriguing premise, or even a second trait for most of its characters. Rather than delve into anyone’s unconscious (an admittedly shaky endeavor) or work out the particulars of dream-snatching, Jeunet and Caro merely use the oneiric as a pretense to roll out the standard tropes of good vs. evil. When children aren't being endangered for the sake of elaborate last-second rescues, they're bonding with an equally innocent gentle giant. Even a couple shades of gris would have been nice.

Their flair for Goldbergian machinations is undeniable -- if only it wasn't in service of such a lumbering narrative. At the risk of encouraging Krank-levels of exploitation, Jeunet and Caro would be better off within the loose structure of a Home Alone reboot or Mouse Trap adaptation where the contraptions are the main attraction.

Despite its shortcomings, The City of Lost Children will no doubt stand the test of time as the only Competition film to conclude with a burp (to the audience, no less!).