An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)
- Credit: Archant
Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec; dir: Luc Besson; starring: Louise Bourgoin, Mathieu Amalric, Gilles Lellouche, Nicolas Giraud, Jacky Nercessian. Cert: 12 (2010)
The French love their period romances, their historical epics and their domestic dramas but, it appears, they also have a sneaky love for the home-produced summer blockbuster.
It’s a side to their cinematic character that we rarely get to see but, thanks to the international profile of writer-director Luc Beeson, occasionally an indulgent treat like The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec makes its way across the channel.
Based on a popular, long-running French comic book series, the film is best described as an irreverent blend of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Mummy with a dash of Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns thrown in for good measure.
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It doesn’t matter that we don’t know the graphic novels over here, Besson takes time to introduce us to the galaxy of grotesques and comic creations that populate this strange alternative Paris during the early years of the 20th century.
The story is set in a new age of enlightenment. Science and adventure are strange bed-fellows. Scientists are emerging from the lab not only to discover the secrets of the world but to also reclaim the lost knowledge of the ancients.
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Our heroine Adèle Blanc-Sec, played with sparky joie de vivre by Louise Bourgoin, is a writer and adventurer. She puts herself in the heart of her best-selling novels thrilling readers with her heart-stopping escapades.
But, Adèle is a woman with a secret. She has told her publisher that she has been exploring the Andes and the ancient civilisations of Peru but we know that she has just returned from excavating the tomb of a specific Egyptian king.
However, Adèle doesn’t have an easy time of it because her archaeological detective work is being sabotaged by her arch-rival and nemesis Dieuleveult, played with evil relish by an unrecognisable Mathieu Amalric.
It turns out that Adèle has made off with a mummy and has packed it off back to Paris, however, it’s not Ramses she’s interested in but rather his long-dead physician. She wants to give him to the eccentric Professor Esperandieu (Jacky Nercessian) who, after experimenting with electricity, the new wonder of the age, has managed to bring a hatchling pterodactyl back to life.
She observes that if he can resurrect a fossilised dinosaur how hard can it be to do the same to a mummy who is only several thousand years old? Unfortunately for Adèle, Esperandieu is unavailable to help her in her quest, because has been arrested for endangering Paris and is languishing in prison.
While Adèle adopts a series of increasingly elaborate disguises to rescue her beloved Professor from the blade of the guillotine, a prototype Inspector Clouseau, played with a food-obsessed, dim-witted charm by Gilles Lellouche, has been charged with tracking down this young dinosaur and make Paris safe again for the revellers of the Belle Époque.
Unfortunately, he manages to be looking to other way every time it flies passed.
Besson has created a sumptuous, rich, lovingly recreated world for these characters to inhabit. The politicians maybe corrupt, the police may be idiots, the scientists completely bonkers but they live in a glorious world of hedonism.
This is a world of Absinthe, can-can dancers, pavement cafes, the Moulin Rouge and chauffeur-driven cars taking mistresses to clandestine rendezvous’. Luc Beeson has created an care-free world of optimism and opportunity, a world which generally reflects his own imaginative take on life – somewhere where creativity can run riot.
But, despite the dazzling production design, the terrific special effects which, on occasion, have been deliberately been given that Ray Harryhausen look, the film stands or falls on the performances of its actors, particularly that of its female lead.
Louise Bourgoin may be surrounded by a larger-than-life ensemble of grotesques and buffoons but you never forget who the star is. Bourgoin’s Adèle Blanc-Sec is never over-shadowed by the busy world she inhabits. Instead, she has created a plucky, resourceful, unflappable heroine who is so self-assured that she dismisses every obstacle in her path.
“Now we’ve mastered the unbelievable, let’s perform the impossible,” she declares at one point and this pretty much sums up this crazy, infectiously entertaining film. I love the fact that at one point Besson has a group of revived mummies on a night-time walking tour of the Paris sights.
It’s lively, surreal, jam-packed with ideas and invention and in an age of formulaic superhero movies The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec appears like an unhinged creative feast. It’s a blockbuster that leaves you fizzing and feeling refreshed rather than jaded and exhausted. The film ends of a cliffhanger but you know that Adèle will get out of it somehow.