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.