Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Les aventures extraordinaires d'Adele Blanc-Sec

It's not often that Triple P actually goes to a cinema to see a film but we did manage to persuade Agent DVD to accompany us to see Luc Besson's Les aventures extraordinaires d'Adele Blanc-Sec the other week.  We thought we were on strong ground as Agent DVD does like a French film. 

Triple P had been intrigued by the poster  for the film, on the London Underground, as it featured several things bound to pique his interest: namely the pyramids, a pterodactyl, a dinosaur skeleton and an attractive young lady in a fetching straw hat.  Even before we had found out anything about it the poster alone would probably have got us along to see it!

When we discovered it was the first major film to be directed by Luc Besson for some time we knew that we had to see it.  We have seen a  number of his films and although many are flawed he has a wonderful visual sense which is most important for Triple P.  We are just not interested in seeing a film that could equally as well have been shot for TV (i.e. most of them) so we do like something with that extra bit of visual flair. 

Besson directs Adele Blanc-Sec

We first came across him when we went to see Subway (1985) which also had a great soundtrack by Eric Serra, a regular collaborator.  We have also enjoyed to varying degrees La Femme Nikita (1990), The Fifth Element (1997) and Joan of Arc (1999).  We have not seen Leon (1994) as it does not appeal, but we know Agent DVD rates it.

We knew we were going to enjoy it from the minute that Serra's marvellous "Egyptian" music started up over credits appearing as if on wall of an Egyptian tomb. 

If one had to design a film for Triple P it would be hard to better the constituent elements of Adele Blanc-Sec: pre-WW1 Paris, Pyramids, Egyptian tombs, mummies, a pterodactyl, a can-can scene, a big game hunter, a natural history museum, a beautiful heroine, a gratuitous bath scene and even a classic ocean liner.  Perfect!

We are not going to go into the somewhat convulted plot but part of the latter can be explained by the fact that this was based on not just one but two seperate bande dessinées by Jacques Tardi featuring his heroine Adele Blanc-Sec.  Besson is a big fan of the original graphic novels and some of the scenes in the film recreate the look of the scenes and characters  extremely closely.

We have a complex prelude which introduces some of the main characters and gives us our Can-Can scene as well, in a beautifully realised pre Great War Paris. 

The exterior shots are very convincing and done panoramically.  When filming period productions in London it is necessary, on the whole, to shoot very tightly, concentrating, for example, on just a couple of houses, which leads to a rather claustrophobic feeling.

The centre of Paris still has great swathes that are free of modern buildings enabling a much broader panoramic effect with any modern elements beeing able to be tidied up with CGI.

Even more wonderful than the exterior shots are the interior ones and the period set dressing is a wonder to behold.

The location shooting in Egypt is excellent but it always amazes Triple P how film makers manage to show the pyramids as if they still sat in splendid isolation in the middle of the desert when they are, in fact, increasingly surrounded by modern elements. We wonder whether the Egyptian government tries to preserve at least one unspoilt view, rather like London tries to do with St Paul's Cathedral.

Overall the film was well received but had a horribly limited release in the UK.  When Agent DVD and Triple P went to see it it was showing in just four cinemas in the UK.  This is a shame as Besson has said that he would like to make a sequel "if there was enough interest".

One element that some of the critics picked on was that the CGI was not up to Hollywood standards.  Triple P would admit that a few shots were less good but frankly there are lot of big movies where the visuals are obviously CGI (even The Lord of the Rings had some very dodgy shots).  We thought the red pterodactyl (we wondered about the colour choice until we saw the graphic novel) was very well realised, for example.

The film stands and falls, however, on the protrayal of Adele Blanc-Sec herself, as she is on screen for much of the time.  Fans of the original bande dessinées were initially unhappy with the selection of Louise Bourgoin as being far too pretty to play the rather mousy Adele.

Bourgoin isn't pretty in this film, however, she is absolutely gorgeous.  Dressed in the most wonderful period outfits and possibly the greatest selection of hats seen in a film since My Fair Lady, she looks sensational.

She not only looks fabulous but she nails the character and delivers a performance which, we suspect, will take her on to bigger and better things.  Not very long ago she was just a TV weathergirl!

Several other critics have mentioned the gratuitous bath scene but, in fact, it is straight from the pages of the original graphic novel and therefore can't possibly be gratuitous!  Anyway, if Triple P was directing a film with Louise in it we would absolutely ensure we got her into a bath!

Louise was born in November 1981 in Brittany.  Her real name is Arianne but she adoped the name Louise because a presenter on the TV show she joined as weathergirl was also called Arianne.  Her performance in La fille de Monaco (2008) got her a nomination as most promising actress in the French César awards (equivalent of the Oscars).

Mlle Bourgoin in modern dress

To help publicise Adele Blanc-Sec Louise did a photo shoot for French Elle's April 2010 issue where she was dressed up as characters from other Luc Besson films to agreeable effect.

Louise as Leeloo from The Fifth Element from Elle 2010

Louise as Nikita

So, a thoroughly enjoyable (if totally silly) film and we hope that there is a UK DVD released before too long. It has come out on DVD in France but with no English subtitles, as is usual with the French. There is also an Asian version but this may be cut. We will have to keep an eye open for Mlle Bourgoin in any other films!

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