Steampunk and The City of Lost Children

I’ve mentioned before that La Cité des Enfants Perdus is one of my favorite fantasy films.  La Cité des Enfants Perdus is a French film directed by Caro and Jeunet. And if you’ve never seen a Caro and Jeunet film (or just a Jeunet film for that matter), I highly recommend you hunt one down and watch it as soon as possible. You won’t regret it, trust me on this.

In my opinion, this is one of the best examples of steampunk in film, without being overtly steampunk. What exactly do I mean by that? Well, steampunk is known for certain characteristics, and some of which the genre is most identified with La Cité des Enfants Perdus does not display. It’s not set in Victorian England, nor the American Wild West, and instead takes place in a surrealistic society of indeterminate origin and time period. And there are no airships floating around the skies as far as I can remember (I’m not quite sure why steampunk has become so associated with airships when so much of it does not feature them.) It is less a historical fiction version of steampunk, and a more surrealist/horror version of the genre.

So, if it’s not classic steampunk, what makes this film part of the genre? I would say the overall stylistic choices and tones of the movie give it a certain feel that make it steampunk, despite the surrealistic bent. But, I think the one, most identifying feature, is all the crazy technology used. A good chunk of the movie takes place in Krank’s laboratory, where he’s using a weird helmet (which looks decidedly less like our modern technology, what with all the copper/brass tubing and strange pipes and wires dangling from everywhere) to steal children’s dreams from them.


Here’s another perfect example of steampunk technology from the film, notice its overly stylistic and ornate design:


This may be an oversimplification, but often in steampunk the technology is pretty to look at. (This might be one of the reasons that steampunk fashion has become so popular within the last few years.) With steampunk technology, even if it is far advanced of our modern technology today, it is not slick and streamlined looking, but instead looks like something that was designed at the beginning of the industrial age, or even before then.

So, if I had to pinpoint the one thing that absolutely makes La Cité des Enfants Perdus steampunk, I’d say it’s the technology, not only the way it looks but also because it plays such an important role in the film. Still, steampunk technology’s not the only enjoyable thing about the movie. The story is strange, and moving, and so incredibly bizarre. If you’ve never seen this, you really should check it out, whether you’re a fan of steampunk or not.


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