This latest offering from veteran director Luc Besson is, well, surprising, to say the least.
Perhaps I’ve been exposed to a disproportionate number of French art-house films, or perhaps it was because the only image I’d previously seen of Louise Bourgoin’s Adèle was that of her stood semi-naked, head-tilted, sexily smoking her French cigarettes. Either way, I was not expecting, or prepared for the full-on fantasy adventure film that is The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec.
It’s closest comparison within French cinema is, perhaps, the whimsical comedy Amélie, but really, this film is far more likely to receive comparisons with the likes of The Mummy, and even Indiana Jones. Besson himself has reportedly compared the character of Adèle to being like ‘Lara Croft’s grandmother’ – a tough role to fill, perhaps, but it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Bourgoin.
The character is certainly well-written: a convention-breaking reporter, determined and warm-hearted. Yet it is Bourgoin’s comic timing and charm which make her so captivating to watch. She’s ladylike and aloof in her elaborate early-twentieth century attire, whilst happily embracing the script’s various opportunities to don a fat-suit or a moustache. It is perhaps worth mentioning the fact that Besson has previously been credited with discovering actresses such as Natalie Portman (Leon) and Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element). This might not be Bourgoin’s first appearance on the big screen (she starred in the 2008 film, The Girl from Monaco) – but could it be that the director has found his latest muse?
However, despite Bourgoin’s near-perfect performance, the film as a whole is not without it’s flaws. For a start, it’s hard to in pinpoint quite who’s supposed to be watching it. With farcical policemen hunting an pterodactyl, whilst a Egyptian Pharaoh’s mummified doctor is accidentally brought back to life, it’s a comedy of errors which is almost certainly aimed at children.
Yet there’s a far more morbid side to this tale. We see Adèle cheerily painting the cheeks of her sister who is, arguably, dead – or at least in a fairly severe coma. Her character is also deliberately provocative at times; stripping naked and flirting with a mummified corpse, knocking back shots of whisky by herself, and smoking a melancholy cigarette in the bath. Besson’s been known to dabble in a variety of genres in the past, but this blurring of audience demographics fails to work in this film’s favour.
The film’s other characters are good, fine, but ultimately without depth. Mathieu Amalric stars as Adèle’s nemesis, Dieuleveut, although you’d never recognise him, and Nicolas Giraud (who also starred in Besson’s action thriller, Taken), is endearing as Adèle’s almost-love-interest. However, it is within the supporting cast that you become more aware of this film’s origins. The Extraordinary Adventures… is based upon the Franco-Belgian comics series of the same name by artist Jacques Tardi and, unfortunately, these slapstick caricatures become a little tiresome towards the end of the film.
Ultimately, The Extraordinary Adventures… has a somewhat dubious plot, with an amusing script and an extraordinary actress. If you can buy into the more than slightly convoluted narrative (and I certainly suggest that you try…), then it’s thoroughly enjoyable. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending this film, I’m just not sure who to.