Saturday, March 18, 2017

In short: The Fifth Element (1997)

Original title: Le cinquième élément

It’s easy and often enjoyable to make fun of Luc Besson and his obsession with films not making any logical sense whatsoever, his loathing for the laws of physics even when a scene has no need to ignore them, and his painful, weaponized idea of humour. However, when the man is on as a director, he is on, while still keeping all of these weaknesses alive.

The Fifth Element might very well be Besson’s magnum opus (though I’m more partial to his Jacques Tardi adaptation about the adventure of Adèle Blanc-Sec because there, Besson seems to have had more control over his most grating obsessions, though this one is certainly the more pure dose of Besson), a film that adds the love for French science fiction comics and Bruce Willis to a mix I find at once exhilarating and incredibly annoying. It certainly isn’t a film to watch when you have a migraine, for most of its running time consists of Besson using all his considerable visual powers and a very French concept of weirdness to screech nonsense into your ears while throwing the most incredible candy coloured lysergic images at your eyes. At its best, this means the film very authentically portrays a preposterous yet utterly beautiful looking future where clearly everybody has been driven completely insane by their surroundings; at its worst, this means Chris Tucker playing a guy named Ruby Rhod making high pitched noises forever.

Parts of Besson’s decisions are as bizarre as ever. Let’s just look at the cast: Bruce Willis as air taxi driver and space marine certainly makes sense (particularly since the guy never had much of problem making light of his own hard ass image), but why cast Milla Jovovich who can’t act her way out of a paper bag instead of a just as attractive actress who can (wait for it) act? Is the short guffaw of seeing Tiny Lister as The President (we are never quite sure of what exactly) really worth the fact that he’s going to be pretty bad in what is a considerably larger role than a cameo? Why Chris Tucker? No, seriously, why Chris Tucker of all the unfunny professional funnymen on Earth? And what’s up with Gary Oldman’s accent?

And on it goes with one bizarre decision after the next. The funny thing is, at least every second time I watch The Fifth Element I’m having a wonderful time with it, falling into its mix of beauty and nonsense like into…well, whatever piece of furniture is very loud and annoying yet awesome. It’s certainly not a film for every opportunity (but which one is?) - it is much too idiosyncratic, annoying and strange for that, but when the opportunity for it arises, it is glorious.

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