Friday, April 14, 2017

Past Misdeeds: Adèle Blanc-Sec

aka The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

Original title: Les Aventures Extraordinaires D'Adèle Blanc-Sec

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Journalist and adventurer Adèle Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin) is adventuring in Egypt. The young woman is attempting to steal the mummy of Patmosis, the personal physician of Ramses II. Adèle's not in it for money or fame, though. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Adèle is trying to acquire Patmosis so that her friend, the elderly - and nutty - professor Esperandieu (Jacky Nercessian) can revive the dead guy with his enormous mind powers. The newly alive Patmosis, or so Adèle hopes, will then use the superior medical knowledge of the ancient Egyptians to cure her sister, who has been lying in a waking coma ever since a very unfortunate tennis/hatpin accident (for which Adèle feels guilty) five years ago. Acquiring the mummy needs all of Adèle's (also quite enormous) powers of sarcasm and adventuring, but evading a nasty French government agent and gaining possession of the dead doctor is only the beginning of what the young writer will have to do to save her sister.

While Adèle was away, Professor Esperandieu has decided that it's a good idea to make a test run of his revivification process, and has induced a pterodactyl to claw itself out of an egg in the Museum of Natural History. Unfortunately, the dinosaur is rather cross with the world at large, and causes the death of a state minister and his dancehall singer lover, a deed for which the police soon hold the old man responsible. Consequently, when Adèle returns to Paris, Esperandieu is soon to be executed.

Of course, little things like a prison break or a pterodactyl can't stand between a woman and the life of her sister.

Between producing and writing every action movie from Europe made in the last ten years, Luc Besson has somehow found the time to direct this adaptation of a series of critically well-loved comics by Jacques Tardi. Having mostly grown up on US comics, I have never read any of Tardi's Adèle Blanc-Sec stories (though I'll probably catch up on them through the new Fantagraphics translations), so you won't hear anything about the terrible things Besson might or might not have done to my childhood with his film. I suspect the director/writer took a lot of liberties with his source material - at least nothing I have read about the first two albums of the comic mentions anything about a sister in a coma (I know, I know, it's serious). This gives me the freedom to just shrug about the quality of the adaptation and watch the pretty, moving pictures in this case.

Tonally, Adèle is quite a comedic film, dominated by a sense of humour that vacillates between the silly, the stupid, and the delightfully whimsical, with the whimsical and the silly having a boxing match for domination into which the stupid blunders from time to time in form of "hilarious" policemen of the fat sheriff archetype and hunters as we know them from Monty Python sketches. But for every joke about a pterodactyl shitting on someone's head, there are three or four actually funny ones, so that's rather alright with me.

Mostly, Besson shows the right sort of comedic timing, seldom staying in one place too long for it to become annoying. Although, truth be told, I could have gone with one or two "funny" disguises less in Adèle's failed attempts at breaking Esperandieu out of prison, especially because the way she actually manages to get the Professor out is much funnier and much more fun than the disguises are.

Between the jokes, the film does feature some fine, entertaining moments of adventure, rather like what I'd imagine a fourth Indiana Jones movie made by people who still know the difference between good, entertaining randomness and doddering idiocy would have included. Speaking of the film that doesn't exist, Adele's CGI effects are also a lot better than those found there (though not perfect, as the conceptually best moment of pterodactyl adventuring will prove), even though I really don't know why you'd want to realize a walking mummy through CGI instead of make-up. But the effect is good enough, if you are willing to accept it for what it is, and who am I to stand between myself and my own entertainment through walking mummies?

I was also positively surprised by the easiness with which Besson - whose output in the last decade hasn't shown any interest in women in his movies beyond the "looking pretty" or "to be rescued" parts - concentrates on a female hero whose competence and heroism isn't treated as anything special "for a woman" (yet still as something pretty special "for a person"); all men in the movie are either mummies, or clowns, or just minor characters anyway.

It certainly helps Besson's case here that Louise Bourgoin is quite effortlessly capable to carry the movie with a performance that is at once energetic and charming, and holds herself against good jokes and bad, pterodactyls, mummies, and pantomime villains. Bourgoin is in fact so central to the film that the only scenes that don't work at all are those in which she isn't on screen. It's enough to make a boy infatuated.

As is, now that I think about it, the whole film she's starring in.

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