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
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
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
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
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.