Posts Tagged ‘zut alors’

 List of things you expect to find in a Luc Besson movie:

  • cynical mercenaries with violent pasts discovering their humanity
  • implausibly evil gangsters
  • lots of guns going off
  • Jet Li and/or Jason Statham breaking out the martial arts action
  • heinous overacting from the bad guy
  • attractive young women threatening to urinate on the floor in public
  • Milla Jovovich

 List of things you don’t expect to find in a Luc Besson movie:

  • underplayed wit
  • touching exploration of the nature of sisterly love
  • prehistoric monsters crapping on people
  • comedy-relief CGI undead
  • cameo appearance by Bob Monkhouse

I don’t know, I think we may be doing ol’ Luc a disservice. It’s not that the movies he’s been orchestrating for the last decade have actually been bad (I myself have cheerfully rocked up to see all three Transporters as well as the films he’s done with Jet Li) but they’ve been utterly unpretentious exercises in no-frills action moviemaking. In the light of that, it’s easy to forget that as a director Besson once enjoyed considerable critical acclaim in both Europe and the USA. His 1994 movie Leon is currently inside the Top 40 of the iMDb’s all-time great list, which surprised me, but only a little as it is a genuinely terrific thriller as well as a character drama.

Of course, following Leon Besson seemed to blow it by trading in all the capital he’d accrued by making The Fifth Element, an SF epic that managed to seem incoherent and overblown even by the standards of the late 1990s. And since then he seems to have concentrated on his producing and scriptwriting, which is rather a shame as he surely has more to offer than the kind of guilty pleasures that have generally been the result.

Signs that Besson the director may be making a comeback come with The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, an adaptation of a French comic book (or whatever they call it over there) which features none of the stuff from the first list and nearly everything off the second (no sign of Bob Monkhouse – but realistically, I think that boat has sailed).

For the second time in recent weeks I find myself attempting to precis the plot of a French movie in such a way as to not cause others to doubt my own mental stability. Do they put something in the water over there? Boy. Anyway, Louise Bourgoin plays the title role, as a journalist-stroke-adventuress in 1911 Paris. After her sister is critically injured in a freak tennis accident, Adele Blanc-Sec does what anyone would do in the circumstances and sets about discovering the tomb of the personal physician of the Pharaoh Rameses II. This is because she plans to use the psychic powers of an academic friend of her to resurrect the mummy in the hope he will be able to use his skills to help. However, the academic in question decides to practice his resurrectionist abilities by causing a pterodactyl egg to hatch in the local museum. The pterodactyl runs amuck in Paris and accidentally causes the death of a politician in somewhat compromising circumstances, making the execution of her cunning plan that much more complicated. Some days nothing seems to go right…

(I watched that movie Sicko in which Michael Moore said all kinds of nice things about the French healthcare system. There was no mention of people having to engage in necromancy just to try and fix sporting injuries. Someone’s not being completely honest here.)

The story as the film tells it is a good deal more convoluted than I’ve probably made it sound, with many key details kept back until quite late on. Despite all this, the story is always quite easy to follow, despite the fact that it’s completely insane. This is part of the film’s charm, which is considerable.

At heart this is a comedy, and quite a broad one, but handled with a verve and lightness of touch that makes it seem effortlessly sophisticated rather than crass and silly. Louise Bourgoin gives a star performance as the endlessly resourceful and (it seems) utterly fearless heroine. Nothing seems to throw our girl and her understated responses to the bizarre situations she ends up in are utterly winning. It does not take a genius to foresee a strong possibility of Bond Girldom in Bourgoin’s future, a position in which she will surely garner great attention and be horribly underused.

Most of the other characters are comic grotesques played under layers of prosthetics: none moreso than Mathieu Amalric (seeing as we were speaking of the Bond franchise), who has a fairly small role, given he’s second billed, as some sort of arch-enemy of Adele’s (it’s a little unclear whether the end of this film is genuinely setting up a sequel or just aping the tone of the source comics). Unlike in most Anglophone comedies I’ve seen recently, however, most of the performances are actually funny.

This film doesn’t have quite the sheen and polish of a genuine effects-led blockbuster, for all that it clearly aspires to be one, but it’s well made with great sets and costumes. The special effects are occasionally a little rough around the edges, but forgivably so considering just how ambitious the script is in places. It’s only really an unreasoning dislike of subtitles that could stop anyone from enjoying this as a great piece of family entertainment.

(Well, I suppose some people could conceivably object to the brief and discreet sequence in which Louise Bourgoin – how can I put this delicately? – gets ’em out. I can think of no other reason for the film’s 12A certificate in the UK, anyway. Nevertheless, given the context, if I were Louise Bourgoin I might object to the implication that my breasts were unsuitable for family consumption. Possibly not grounds for a legal challenge to the BBFC, admittedly.)

Anyway, this film doesn’t show Luc Besson quite back on top form but it’s great to see him doing his thing again, especially in such an idiosyncratic way. It clearly owes more of a debt to the style of The Fifth Element than Leon or Nikita, but don’t let that put you off. For someone occasionally criticised for mindlessly aping the style of Hollywood cinema, Luc Besson has made a film it’s impossible to imagine being made anywhere else than France, and he’s done a good job of it. Bravo, Luc! Keep ’em coming. Don’t be un etranger, d’accord?

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