When did "The City of Lost Children" project originate, and
where did it come from?
It was an old dream for us, for 14 years we wanted to do it.
We conceived of it well before "Delicatessen." Of course,
since then, there has been a lot of work rewriting. At the
start, we wanted to tell the story of a little girl and of
a big guy...the fog, the port, the foghorns of the boats,
all the surroundings there.
were thinking of a world depopulated of dreams, dark and gloomy.
It was the idea that we had. That someone who didn't dream
but, just the same, lived very well, yet would want to see,
in dreams, a greater dimension of the imagination. For us,
someone who is deprived of that is condemned to die. That's
part of what we wanted to say...If one cannot dream and imagine
things, and if one is sentenced to the everyday, to reality,
we find, in "The City of Lost Children," a parable on the
desperation of modern man, who is progressively losing the
ability to dream?
We never have "messages" of that sort, merely the desire to
tell a simple story.
I think of men incapable of dreaming...There have always been
men to put on fantasy festivals, or to make films, to make
others dream; and there are others who have never dreamed.
Dreaming is also having the ability to preserve the spirit
of childhood. It's true that it's a little metaphorical in
the framework of the film, but there's no message.
is your own definition of the world of dreams?
In every way, in this film, our vision of dreams is not at
all realistic. We've read all the books about dreams, their
significance, etc.; but, while it was thoroughly interesting,
it wasn't necessary to take it into consideration for the
story that we wanted to tell. One takes a greater risk in
the realm of fairy tales than in dreams, in the proper sense.
So we went in that direction, letting our imagination manifest
The Freudian side of dreams is very interesting, but it's
not at all our subject. That would have made for a tedious
film, more of a mediocre parable...
you divide up your tasks in the same manner as on "Delicatessen"?
Even more so, since there was so much work to do that we were
a little more separated. Marc focused on the artistic side;
me, the actors.
some people, the film seems to be meant for children as well
Absolutely, but, as always, at the outset, the film was made
first of all for ourselves. It's true that we've stayed very
paradox is that the film, at moments, seems a little too dark
But if you look at "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," "Snow White," "Bambi,"
there are some awful enough scenes that make an impression...I
think that an audience member, whether big or little, wants
to feel afraid, to have fun, to be moved, to cry -- in short,
to be surprised. There has to be a little of all those emotions...
The idea is to rediscover, a little, childhood fears -- those
in tales that were told to us. This is far from being gory.
Yet, in the tales, when you read Grimm or Perrault, there's
a certain cruelty.
was the major difficulty working on the film?
Being saddled with all conceivable problems: tricky effects,
children...Everything that you would normally say not to have:
an American actor, five months of filming, very complicated
special effects --
We had everything! Now, we can move on to intimate, normal
films. [Laughs.] In spite of our previous experience, we never
imagined the task ahead of us. We had to have known, at least
unconsciously: we knew that this wasn't going to be easy...
film carries elements of science fiction (notably, The Cyclops),
which could signify that it takes place in the near future.
But, on the other hand, it could be a "future" prior, which
is to say, a future which never took place? Are you claiming
a kinship with Fellini's universe?
Yes, it's a retro future, a former future. The aesthetic of
the film is very Jules Verne, with The Nautilus, also Frankenstein's
laboratory, with the bolts, etc.
represented, for some, a commercial risk; do you think that
you're taking the same risk with "The City of Lost Children"?
It's riskier in that this film is more expensive, but it's
already been sold abroad, which is a good thing: it's satisfying
to know that it will be seen everywhere. Sure, this film is
atypical, but it's always a risk to do a film in France.
At the same time, I think that this works better, to do something
a little different and original that invites attention.
was there so much secrecy during filming?
When working on a film of such scope, answering journalists'
questions is impossible. There are already so many more pressing
questions: where am I going to put the camera, what do I say
to the actor, how it's going to be done, etc. And there are
a million of these questions daily! [Laughs.] Also, we didn't
want to spoil the surprises, so as not to wear the public
you want to give to this film a more "international" dimension
than "Delicatesen," even though that film did well in foreign
That didn't occur to us, as such. With "Delicatessen," we
made the film we would have wanted to see, and, fortunately,
through the visual aspects, it was enjoyed everywhere. If
we wanted to make "The City of Lost Children" more international,
we would have started by filming it in English. Sure, there's
an American actor, Ron Perlman, but that's because we couldn't
find someone like that, neither in France nor in Europe, who
could portray the character. Marc thought of Ron, whom he
had seen in a Mexican film, "Cronos." The composer, Angelo
Badalamenti, is American as well. We wanted to work with him,
and we didn't see anyone comparable, at his level of lyricism.
Marianne Faithfull sings at the end of the film, but this
came about because Badalamenti had done an album with her.
Visual cinema is international: with "Delicatessen," foreign
viewers everywhere laughed in the same spots, wherever their
this film, we meet again some of the actors from your previous
film. Dominique Pinon, of course, but also Jean-Claude Dreyfus,
Ticky Holgado, and Rufus: is there a "familial" aspect that
you seek to maintain?
Yes, but at the same time, we're not giving away presents;
there had to be roles for them. There are many actors from
"Delicatessen" who we love, but who we didn't bring back,
because there weren't parts for them...We found Mireille Mosse
[Miss Bismuth], the two actresses who play The Octopus, Serge
Merlin as the Cyclops Leader -- all are "new" to the family,
and it's our hope to, on each film, discover some others...
And then, we can look everywhere, not only in France. But
it's equally true that, with Dominique Pinon, I have the feeling
that there will always be a part for him...He corresponds
well to our universe...
you consider someone other than Daniel Emilfork for the role
No, for 14 years, it was going to be him. The role was written
for him. He was very flattered. We'd seen him on-stage.
a hateful character, for whom one feels hardly any sympathy...even
though he's rather pleasant with One's brother Denree, whose
aplomb pleases him...
I think that he is especially pathetic when he goes to see
Irvin to ask him, since Irvin has feelings, for help...To
not have an imagination means he doesn't even have feelings.
What's so bizarre about this character is that he's completely
inhuman, seeing as he's a "creature," and his behavior is
pathetic -- but at the same time he's made very human: how
he gets sick, and all that...He's a large, wicked movie character,
yet he has a humanity, a frailty...
did the direction go, regarding Krank?
We could talk about that for four nights! [Laughs.]...What
I could tell you would be nothing next to what you would have
learned from being there with him!
It was a life experience! He's someone absolutely unique,
extraordinary. In truth, he is Krank, in some part...He's
a major professional, totally passionate about what he does.
We were fortunate to have with us people full of enthusiasm,
which he is, which Claudie Ossard is, which the special effects
people were, and Jean-Paul Gaultier, and the lowest technician...
This film gave each technician, each artist, the opportunity
to express oneself a little more than with films on contemporary
did you find little Judith Vittet, who plays the astonishing
She had previously done a little advertising work, and she
was in "Nobody Loves Me." We did tests with her, and she had
shown a toughness out of the ordinary, and perfect professionalism:
she had the right tone, she understands everything, she was
totally amazing. For the moment, she doesn't want to be an
actress, but an architect or an archaeologist.
But at the same time, she adores this! She says, already,
that she wants to choose her roles, that she doesn't want
to do just anything. She is completely incredible, but doesn't
have a big head at all. She is exceptional...I hope that she
will have other beautiful adventures like this...
Besson's "The Professional" shows the love of a brute (Jean
Reno) and an adolescent (Natalie Portman). Here, could one
say as well that there is a love story between One and Miette,
especially as evoked in the dialogue?
This could also be a love story. She is in search of that,
but she is only 9 years old. But any comparison to the Besson
film is purely by chance...
practice, her coquettishnes -- the fact that she softens --
is in the classic tradition, except that here it comes from
The whole scene on the staircase with the shoe is overloaded
with sexual connotations, but it's unconscious on the part
of the little girl...and with us, too: it was while editing
that we realized it!
was it directing very young children?
I tried all the boys' dialogue with each one of them, because
one would say one line well but wouldn't know how to say another.
I worked out the roles according to this method. I also modified
dialogues based on what sounded best coming out of their mouths...There
were many takes, sometimes tiresome: they would become dissipated,
and, with a girl in their midst, it was even worse!...But,
when "Action!" was called, they would get fully into it. When
"Cut!" was called, it was over, they would lose concentration.
They could go from concentration to de-concentration instantaneously,
it was unbelievable. With the little girl, there were many
repetitions, improvisations on themes such as gloominess,
anger, etc. All that work truly paid off....You have to understand
that a three-year-old toddler doesn't perform, he just is.
So, he's absolutely right-on, and he will never hit a false
note. In the editing, we inserted facial expressions at propitious
it a challenge shooting Dominique Pinon "cloned" -- for the
actor, and for the shot?
It was very complicated to do, but it went well, without problems.
We rehearsed the most difficult portions at Pitof/Duboi over
two days, to get Dominique Pinon used to the system, and us
too. Later, during filming, it was essential having an actor
like Pinon, who is extremely technical, to arrive at the desired
result. It's more tedious than complicated, truthfully. Pinon
had to simultaneously play The Clones, incorporate the subtle
differences between each Clone, all the while adhering to
the preset synchronized sound-timing, hitting his mark opposite
stand-ins. Sometimes there was only 1 centimeter to manuever
in "Delicatessen," the universe in which your characters struggle
is a somber one...
don't see it as an afternoon in the country, no. I do think
that there must be consistency in the story that is being
told. Fairy tales, on the whole, take place in the forest,
the characters are a little bit lost, there arelights far
away, etc. We adapted that so that there are lights in the
port with the lighthouse far away, and there's the rig that's
a little like a "castle" for the evil sorcerer. It's modernized,
with all our imagery...you couldn't have it by the sea at
Club Med!...There has to be a balance between the subject,
the look of the film, the characters, and the overall cohering
Jean-Louis Trintignant easily convinced to lend his voice
to Irvin, the living brain?
Jeunet: I think that it was his daughter, Marie Trintignant,
who, at the outset, talked to him about us. We had contacted
him for "Delicatessen," but apparently there had been a road
block from his agent...Marie spoke well of us to her father,
he came to see some images at our editing table, and he was
He's one of those rare French actors who's also a beloved
movie star...We especially wanted him for the tone of his
voice...To bring to life a brain in a glass bowl, we needed
an amazing voice, one a little like HAL's in "2001."
you work closely with Angelo Badalamenti, or did you leave
him to do whatever he wanted?
seems that the film has two parts: the first, where we find
out about the characters; the second, which begins with the
"connection" between One and Miette. Was this intentional?
Yes, I think this could be perceived as a shortcoming. But
I liked the approach of starting with the dream, seeing the
rig, forgetting about it right away by going to the school,
which we leave as well to get interested in One, etc. To do
it that way, like pieces of a puzzle, and, little by little,
the pieces begin to come together. Me, I'm very happy with
it, but I realize that it's perhaps not an easy, direct entry
into the subject...
We were also reproached that "Delicatessen" gets underway
too late. It was said to us that the "Delicatessen" story
only really begins when Dominique Pinon invites the young
woman over for tea, which is about 20 minutes in. So, that
will probably be seen as a similarity with "The City of Lost
"Delicatessen," there was, in one memorable sequence, this
very funny series of incidents resulting in a final gag. In
"The City of Lost Children," the process begins with the teardrop,
which arrives to, ultimately, save Miette's life. Is this
kind of sequence something you enjoy doing, and is it particularly
difficult to conceive and execute?
I have something of a gift for writing this kind of thing,
and it's a real pleasure to dream up, say, that little mouse
with the magnet, or the dog pulling the pulley, but it's in
the staging that it's complicated. But with the teardrop,
this goes much further, because it's a ludicrous illustration
of The Chaos Theory, where one incident leads into another...It's
amusing to know that someone's teardrop, a symbol of her sorrow,
depicted by a simple drop of water, saves her life by becoming,
at the end, a cargo boat 400 meters high that breaks up a
bridge of boats! But between writing it on paper and directing
it...it's not the same thing! [Laughs.] It was quite a challenge
for the special-effects men directly responsible for doing
film proves that French special effects are now on a par,
in terms of quality and efficiency, with American special
This especially proves that what counts is not the machines,
but the men. What's gratifying is having very capable Frenchmen...like
Pitof, like Buf Compagnie. It's true that everything numeric
now permits a significant leap forward, even on the level
There were four teams of sound technicians participating in
the making of this film, a workload pretty rare in France.
But there are men qualified for the jobs...
you totally satisfied with the film?
You step back a little and accept that your film will be full
of flaws, and that these flaws become part of the film. There
is no perfect movie, ever -- it doesn't exist. If a film is
successful, it's due to a mixture of qualities and flaws...At
the same time, it's a great source of frustration that there's
You try to reach it, like a tennis player trying to win each
point. And then you don't reach them all, but at the finish,
you've won the match just the same. Or maybe it's not won,
but you've given your all. But, these days, people only see
the lost points.
done animation, short films, and music videos...Which one,
if any, do you consider to be the best training ground for
It takes meticulousness and precision, but there are a thousand
different ways of making films. There are filmmakers who are
completely disorganized, but, in the end, come up with magnificent
results. There's no one technique...Making "The City of Lost
Children," we applied, on a grand scale, what we learned making
what are your aspirations?
I feel I'd like to explore other narrative forms, ones in
which there's a little media interactivity. What especially
interests me is developing universes, and multimedia can enable
me to explore a universe that I will construct...
I'd like to continue writing screenplays...something like
"Forrest Gump," where the special effects aren't necessarily
seen but can enable things to be done that couldn't have been,
previously...in turn, reviving the writing, in proposing new
things, thanks to the new techniques.
you have a new project together?
No, we're in the middle of discussing how we're each going
to go in our own directions to do a little work, and perhaps
one day get back together -- why not?
Above all, we'll continue to do things we like, that interest
us. What strengthens us is, between the films, we each acquired
personal experiences...all of the kind that allow, from time
to time, you to find yourself again and that each of us evolves,
bringing a new dyanmic to our joint projects...After getting
to a certain stage, with the project having materialized...since
it was 14 years of carrying this film, you feel like trying