★ ★ 1/2
One word can easily describe this movie: bizarre. But, if you look at the front of the DVD case, then you can probably deduce that you are in for a film that is not going to be exactly normal. Most of what I have seen by co-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet I have enjoyed, but this film I found less than appealing.
The story takes place in a steam punk-esque atmosphere that is never completely disclosed where or when it is. Every character in the film is somewhat grotesque and quirky. Daniel Emilfork plays a weirdo named Krank who runs a compound with a series of other freakish creations in the middle of the ocean. Krank, among the others he lives with which include six men that look the same, a dwarfish woman and a brain inside a fishtank called Uncle Irvin, were apparently all created by a currently absent mad scientist. Unfortunately, all of his creations had some deformity including Krank’s inability to dream. To experience dreams, he steals children and tries to tap inside their minds with an odd looking machine. One (Ron Perlman) is a circus strong man who travels with his little brother and some other guy. When his little brother is stolen from their circus caravan by a blind cult, One goes after them. Along the way he befriends a group of child pickpockets including the strong-minded little Miette (Juliet Vittet). In their search for his little brother they encounter more odd characters and circumstances until they finally find the compound where Krank and gang are residing.
Now, after reading that synopsis, does any of it make much sense to you? Probably not. That is my problem with this film. Stylistically, it is top notch; the cinematography, direction and production design all add up to create a lusciously weird atmosphere. However, the story itself is so contrived and bizarre that the novelty of the style quickly fizzles out. The one shining piece about the film outside of its beautiful design is Juliet Vittet as Miette. She did a wonderful job in the role and I’m surprised we haven’t seen her in more productions in the years since. This phenomena seems to be fairly standard for child actors though; for instance, whatever happened to the boy who played young Toto in Cinema Paradiso? He was amazing in that.
In conclusion, if you like dazzling production design and enough odd characters to put Tod Browning’s Freaks to shame, then you may love this movie. For me, however, I thought it lacked too much in the most important areas of film production: story and character.