The first impression that springs to mind when watching Luc Besson’s latest film The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (2011) is simultaneous in any film-goers mind; Amelie (2001) meets Raiders of the Lost Arc (1981). Its action, its style, its punchy one-liners are a fusion of Hollywood-style adventure and avant-garde French humour which, despite my initial scepticism, work surprisingly well.
The madcap plot begins somewhere around the time of the awakening of a prehistoric pterodactyl, who has the uncanny ability to show up and swoop in just as anyone is declaring how absurd the notion of a pterodactyl in twentieth century Paris is. It is awoken as a result of an experiment by aged scientist Esperandieu (Jacky Nercessian), who is subsequently thrown in prison and faces the guillotine. Enter Adele Blanc-Sec, the extraordinary Louise Bourgoin, a strong and unshakable beauty who travels the world under the guise of artefact collecting, until her ulterior motive concerning her twin sister’s life emerges (beware the dangers of a tennis ball and a hat pin).
Adele needs the professor to reanimate an ancient mummy stolen from Egypt, but discovers tomb raiding, arch-nemesis foiling and escaping certain death are all in a day’s work compared to her repeated, and hilarious, attempts to break Esperandieu out of prison. The bumbling police force, led by Inspector Caponi (Gilles Lellouche) are a little preoccupied with a giant pterodactyl to cause Adele too many problems, but rather adversity comes in the form of Dieuleveult, skilfully played by Mathieu Amalric, who pushes through the heavy, and rather disturbing, prosthesis to convey both quivering lust and fiery loathing of Adele.
The whole project works because of the obvious care and conviction that has gone into it. Besson was the first of several to finally gain permission to turn the much-loved comic series by Jacques Tardi into an on-screen feature, and proves himself to be the perfect choice. The film maintains an innately French feel, and doesn’t compromise on charm and quirkiness in order to try and reach a broad audience, although the adventure-filled plot will appeal to all ages. Besson’s vision maintained order in the thrilling chaos, and as a result the film manages to deliver straight, deadpan humour out of maniacal surroundings of which you never question but just enjoy.
Louise Bourgoin had little acting experience prior to playing Adele, having previously been a TV weather girl, but her on-screen charisma and instinctive comic timing means she’s unfazed by the bigger stars and eccentric plot, and is undoubtedly one to keep an eye on. It’s just a shame Amalric didn’t share more screen time with her, as Besson’s strategic tight shots of his unsightly, twitching face up close to Bourgoin’s radiant complexion are simultaneously so wrong and yet so right. Besson likes to focus on the face in his films, to get right up close to share the subtlest of expressions and the wildest reactions – I particularly enjoyed watching Nercessian as Esperandieu’s close-up whilst he appears to share the mind of the pterodactyl (watch out for that).
The whole concept, humour and executed plot are, admittedly, sometimes silly and will not be cherished by all, but the film is so good-natured that whether the audience are smiling delightedly or groaning inwardly, all will be enjoying its visual beauty and plucky spirit, which is essentially wrapped up in the character of Adele herself. My eyes are peeled for a sequel on the horizon.