Probably because I watched these fairly close together, there seem to be striking similarities between The Professional (1994) and The City of Lost Children (1995).
In The Professional, Leon (Jean Reno) is a hitman who saves Mathilda (Natalie Portman) from the men that killed her family. Mathilda then convinces Leon to help her avenge her brother's death. She asks to be "cleaner" just like Leon. Leon reluctantly agrees to train her.
In The City of Lost Children, One (Ron Perlman) is a performing strong man who loses his little brother Denree to a man who steals children and their dreams. One recruits the help of the crafty Miette (Judith Vittet) to help save Denree.
These films are both pretty grim children's stories. Let's face it, the best children's stories involve orphans where grown-ups don't really have a place in these movies, except as the enemy. These two films have that down.
The Professional just so happens to bring along a ton of violence, lots of guns, and the DEA, with a dash of budding sexuality. For content so adult, the film feels awfully naive--it's pretty much a straight forward kid's movie: a kid's family just doesn't understand, and when something comes into their life and/or something goes wrong, they latch onto fellow kids to save the day. In this case, Mathilda latches on to fellow kid Leon, who just so happens to kill people for a living. He avenges her brother's death--problem solved.
While it's easier to see the little kid in Ron Perlman's performance, with his short sweater and goofy haircut, Jean Reno also brings a kid-like perspective to his performance with his constant milk drinking and attachment to his plant. Oddly enough, these two actors perform in films where they're the only ones who aren't native speakers of the film's language. It adds to their awkwardness and innocence. And both Perlman and Reno are both quite large, and in the presence of lovely young actresses, they seem clumsy--except, of course, when they're kicking some ass. It's also a pleasure to watch these older actors give the younger actresses control in many of the scenes, completing the illusion that these are strictly child-filled duos.
Although, I find The City of Lost Children to be in some ways much grimmer than The Professional. It's a bizarre world full of bugs who poison, music that causes violence, machines that steal dreams, and a brain with a case of ennui. It even has some freak show like qualities in the siamese twins (kind of the Fagin/Bill Sikes of the tale), the four henchmen clones (all played by the fantastic Dominique Pinon), and One the strongman (La Strada flashbacks galore). None of the evil is straight forward violence, but complicated and twisted, caused by loneliness and genius. I find that much more disturbing than a corrupt government agency.
I'm just saying that this:
is way creepier than this: