Sunday, 24 April 2011

REVIEW: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

Dir.: Luc Besson (yessss)
With: Louise Bourgoin, Gilles Lelouche

Woooohooooo!!! And I thought I’d never live to see this day! Luc Besson is back to directing films wooopie-dooo! Let me explain why this is such a big moment for me. To put it mildly, I have a very soft, if not squishy and supple, spot for Luc Besson (and this is not a euphemism). The main reason for this is that it was his “The Fifth Element” that was the first ever film I went to see in a proper cinema, with surround sound and the whole shebang. I was nine years old and I was blown away. I felt like my imagination was taken on a visual journey that I could never have dreamt up before; I suppose this is what audiences experienced back when the first “Star Wars” was released. I developed crushes on ALL the cast, obviously starting with Bruce Willis, followed by Gary Oldman, Chris Tucker, Milla Jovovich and even Ian Holm to some extent. I became literally obsessed with the film, watched it every week and even now I try to watch it on yearly basis. The dialogues, the costumes, the little particulars left such an impression on my nine-year-old psyche that if you were to wake me up in the middle of the night and ask the name of the opera singer in the movie, I’d tell you that it was Plava Laguna, which means Blue Lagoon, which is in fact a reference to the film which Milla Jovovich starred in when she was younger. Yes, I am a little geeky when it comes to this. But that’s just how I roll.

Of course, I watched all Besson’s films (ten up until Adele Blanc-Sec) after that and could not help but admire him for his very idiosyncratic style and otherworldly characters. So, I hope you’ll excuse the waves of adolescent excitement I am about to send your way.

Surprisingly, Besson is not taken very seriously in his homeland; supposedly, he is not enough of an auteur like Truffaut to be regarded as the French national treasure – they say his approach is too "American". I beg to differ. The films that he’s actually written and directed are all very European in their treatment, character development and emotions – think of “Leon” or “Subway”. His plots and ideas may revolve around aliens, angels, hitmen, hot sea divers, etc, but they are pretty original ideas, which often become imitated by other directors, mostly from the States. The special effects never overshadow the heart of the story in his films and, let's face it, everyone loves a bit of special FX. However, my favourite aspect of his films is his ‘goddess-fixation’; six of them are about unusual, often gifted in some areas but lacking in others, super-human wonder women. He denies having an obsession, but the fact that he actually married both Anne Parillaud from “Nikita” and Milla Jovovich points to the opposite.

Phew, now that I got this long-time-brewing love letter to my favourite little stout French fatty out of my system, I can begin to actually review “Adele Blanc-Sec”.

If you are a fan of Besson, be prepared to see something that has nothing to do with his previous works, unless you count the two “Arthur” children's films. I don’t know, maybe he is getting old and sentimental, but this foray into the children’s adventures land is quite striking. The film itself is based on famous (apparently) French comic books by Jacques Tardi. This can be seen in how the characters in the film are dressed and made up – the exaggerated, caricature-like features and costumes may be slightly off-putting at the start, but once you manage to suspend your disbelief, kick back and actually enjoy the film, they turn out to be quite charming. The story is a bizarre mixture of “Indiana Jones” and “Amelie”. The protagonist, the said Adele Blanc-Sec is a young woman in 1911 Paris, an author who writes novels about her own adventures in far away lands. She has many male admirers, none of whom are taken seriously. She is very strong-minded and independent in the time of corsets and girdles. I don’t want to give away too much of the storyline, but there are pterodactyls, mummies, big game hunting, tombs and many disguises involved.

The whole time throughout the movie I kept thinking that it must be much funnier in French, the subtitles seemed a bit too literal to transmit the irony, of which Adele is full. However, there were some truly hilarious moments, a lot of good, ol' slapstick comedy. Sadly, there were also times, especially towards the middle, when it just got too slow and a bit unnecessary – bad editing is the culprit I think. The ending was brilliant though. Everyone in the cinema seemed to laugh.

Thus, although this is no “The Big Blue” or even “Subway”, “Adele Blanc-Sec” is a charming and slightly bonkers movie that will leave you with a smile on your face, lingering on for quite a while after the film is over. If you are looking for the usual Besson shtick, you won’t find it here, but maybe some things are better left as they are, untouched, and wonderful in our memories. 

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