Cannes 1995: Day 1: May 17
The City of Lost Children, France, dirs. Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro
Welcome to the first day of the rest of your lives, and also to the first day of the second coming of the 1995 Cannes Film Festival! As I've been telling you for weeks now, and as Twitter has been hearing at regular intervals, I and a distinguished entourage are embracing our practical and financial inabilities to attend the currently-unfolding Cannes Film Festival by calling on all streaming services, private DVD collections, campus holdings, Interlibrary Loan offices, brick-and-mortar rental shops, and international mail-order retailers to throw what we consider a very inspired birthday party for many, many films that screened on the Croisette 20 years ago this week. I personally have already seen upwards of 40 titles, from 18 countries, with about a dozen still to go and more nations to represent. Having searched through every open door for these movies—many of which I hadn't seen in two decades, most of which I'd never seen at all, and several of which are by directors I'd never heard of before—I'm having the time of my life.
Each day of the festival, I'll post an entry that collects my thoughts on the films that bowed on the Croisette that day in 1995. I'll also include links to essays, capsules, tweets, or Letterboxd entries by my cohorts. I hope you'll enjoy following these posts, and that you'll consider playing along, and either posting or linking your impressions in the Comments. I've provided a day-by-day itinerary of the films up for discussion, to help you know what's coming. (I pulled the dates and even the screening times from an old issue of Le Monde; after today, my already-written Twitter reviews will be timed with maximal nerdiness to appear at the moment each day when the curtain rose on the film in question.)
Occasionally, you'll also be treated to more in-depth conversations between me and some scholar, writer, or friend (often all three!) who has particular expertise in a given film or the story or region it depicts. I'll also post a few mid-festival roundtables among my closest collaborators, as we hash out our impressions, concluding with our own jury awards for the Best of the Fest.
Today's easy, since as per usual, only one film was programmed on opening day...
The City of Lost Children
(Main Competition: France, dirs. Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro)
My Full Review: (my 500th for the website!): "... I keep privileging public reception, industry ramifications, and scholarly discourses in this discussion of The City of Lost Children because that's exactly what the film seems to invite: it exists as a provocation about what cinema could do, or at least what it could look like, but with no more hope or intention of actually starting a trend than a Gaultier runway ensemble aims to be worn on the sidewalk. I'm a fan of couture risk-taking in cinema, but City is perhaps too much of an instant museum-piece, albeit dressed up as a midnight movie ..." Grade: B–
Ivan Albertson's Full Review: "... 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. ..." Rating: ★ ★
Tim Brayton's Full Review: "... It's the kind of film that doesn't make the smallest attempt to win you over to its side; if you aren't immediately grabbed by the demented look of its world, there's nothing in the first ten minutes that's going to convince you to stick with it. And this is by no means a world that tries to be inviting: it's made up suffocatingly close buildings that all feel like they're about to collapse and villains who are queasily bio-mechanical, like the abandoned concepts from a David Cronenberg children's film ..."
Amir Soltani's Capsule: "... Much ado about nothing. An aggressively over-stylized work without any of the emotional resonance or flighty pleasures of Amélie. The off-kilter humor falls flat in the absence of any human connection, which the makers of the film seem completely intent on never pursuing. Such a niche aesthetic experience has very limited appeal unless it engages the audiences on an emotional level ..." Grade: C–
And, more briefly...
The City of Lost Children (95, B–): Like Terry Gilliam making a live-action Ghibli film with a rather heavy spirit. Ingenious but ponderous.— Nick Davis (@NicksFlickPicks) May 17, 2015
CITY OF LOST CHILDREN: I tried. Turned it off after 20 minutes of cacophony. Empty if lovely images. Wait 5 yrs for Jeunet’s next. #Cannes95— Alex H. (@bwestcineaste) May 17, 2015
THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (Jeunet/Caro, 95): Virtually impossible to connect to on any level. Meaningless, soulless and visually repulsive.— Amir Soltani (@Amiresque) May 17, 2015
Updated: For further thoughts about The City of Lost Children and the four days' worth of movies that followed, head over to the first Jury Roundtable, where we all go into more detail about our reactions.
Coming tomorrow: The Japanese biopic Sharaku, the twisty Canadian mystery Le Confessionnal, the Jamaican-Canadian crime drama Soul Survivor, and the song-filled study of sisterhood Georgia...