I’ll start Février Francais with a movie that made me return to reading European comics. It is quite hard to find much Adele Blanc-Sec in English, as they only released four of the stories in two bumper volumes, and they’re in quite a limited stock (Some used copies on Amazon, one new Volume two, and nothing on eBay). So the other option is to get them on comixology in french and either read them in french or translate each panel into your native language as you go along. Google translate on your phone (and in camera mode) isn’t bad at doing this, so it’s quite possible, but slower…depending on your fluency. Anyway, regardless of the comics, this was recommended to me. This is the Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec.
Set in November 1911 (from November fourth at one in the morning onwards), we experience what could be best described as the director, Luc Besson, either imitating or paying tribute to Jean Pierre Jeunet by focusing on a character who becomes a key witness to a small series of events that would flow throughout the movie. While feeling the impact of a twelve year old whiskey, he sees two things that the eyes have difficulty comprehending: First, he sees a Pterodactyl…yes, a Pterodactyl – at this time of year, at this time of day, and in this period in history. Localised entirely within the Peripheral vision of a Parisian Drunk. He then sees said Pterodactyl attack a car. The car ends up driving off the bridge and into the Seine. Inside were the founder of Christian Aid, his driver, and a Burlesque Dancer, who was still in one of her more revealing outfits. For the rest of the film, the always hangry Inspector Albert Caponi tries to find the flying beast, while also, in a Luis Bunuel fashion, spends the whole film trying to get something to eat (Which occasionally leads to some misunderstandings and even a spanner in the gears). Meanwhile, Adele Blanc-Sec is in Egypt before returning to Paris with the Mummy of Ramses II’s Physician. We can suggest that this is part of her being an explorer and collector. But in reality she has a long term want…With the help of the Mummy…somehow…she can get her sister back.
Now to look at the components.
The acting, much like the Jean-Pierre Jeunet films we’ve watched up to this point, are more or less cartoon characters. Or more specifically, Band Desiree Characters. Everybody is a little over the top, and the best performances radiate a lot of charisma. The casting of Louise Bourgoin as Blanc-sec…she was literally the best choice. Honestly, if she played her character in real life and you had a chance to talk to her, you would probably blush. Along with Audrey Tautou as Amelie, Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden, and Anthony Quinn as Zorba, Louise Bourgoin as Adele Blanc-Sec is one of my favourite performances in Cinema History.
The characters…If you like Lara Croft, Adele Blanc-Sec is more or less the Pre-War French Equivalent with a different backstory and occupation (Lara’s an Archaeologist, and Adele’s an Investigative Journalist). She’s beautiful, charming, humorous, shrewd, and it would be easy to fall for her (I’m using this language, because this is how a number of men behave around her throughout the film). But then you realise that much of what’s on the surface was created from five long years of suffering and a cynicism that makes it hard to know what she really thinks of everybody. The Love Letters she receives from the Museum Curator Andrej Zborowski show an evident one-side relationship, and she will literally do anything to get what she needs. The supporting characters play off her very well as either foils or distractions or friendly steps. Either way, she carries her scenes really well.
The Story is based on several volumes of Jacque Tardi’s comics with the same name – in particular, it is a mixture between volume one (Because of the Pterodactyl) and volume four (Because of the Mummies), and with a little bit of Volume two in the opening. We get carried along by its great characters and witty dialogue, more so than anything to challenge us as human beings. It has a sense of humour that walks the line of either getting a laugh out of the family or by celebrating the french identity with its beautiful eccentricities and at times surrealist moments. At times the third act can feel a little drawn out, and we can be left asking questions when it came to what happened to some of the characters off-screen. But I still got a lot out of it.
The art style could be described as a Hollywood Adventure movie through a french lens (more or less Luc Besson’s trademark style in a nutshell). I’m reminded of several other movies, books or shows that could inspire it, other than, obviously, Jacque Tardi’s original comic. I can see bits of Indiana Jones. Bits of TinTin. Bits of the 1999 movie The Mummy (which borrows from the old adventure movies from the 1930s), bits of Jean Pierre Jeunet (in particular, Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, perhaps), bits of Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes – it’s all there. Or at least this is how I convey what I’ve seen. And of course, we could suggest a hint of Jurassic Park – But the Dinosaur itself is evidently CGI. The make-up, costume design and location choices were all top notch.
The CGI and Special Effects are very good – in particular the practical effects. The make-up that went into turning some of these actors into their respective characters is very well done. The appearance of Mathieu Amalric as Dieuleveult (Adele’s Arch Nemesis in the comics) was especially surprising, because here is one of the biggest french actors out there (Bond villain, Diving Bell and The Butterfly, etc), and here he is in a small role, buried under a ton of prosthetics. You wouldn’t even know it was him. I certainly didn’t. The Pterodactyl, as said, was CGI. But it was pretty good CGI on top of that. Keeping in mind it was created on roughly one sixth of the budget for Christopher Nolan’s film Inception, which came out in the same year.
The music was done by Luc Besson’s go-to composer Eric Serra, who provides a fantastical charm throughout the viewing. A vintage, yet adventurous sound that transports you to another world. A sense that we’re actually hearing a comic book, not just listening to film scores (The film does involve Adele going to Egypt and the Museum in Paris, after all).
The Cinematography by Besson’s go-to, Thierry Arbogast, was excellent. Usually presenting each scene like a collection of panels in a comic book.
Would I recommend The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec? Yes I would. It’s flawed in its pacing and there are some small holes in the script. But I really enjoyed the characters and the journey. In particular Adele Blanc-Sec herself – She is easily one of my favourite protagonists in both cinema and comics, and God willing, Luc Besson could adapt another album or two into a sequel.
Acting: ****1/4 (***** for Louise Bourgoin)
CGI/Special Effects: ****1/4