The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

31 May

Ramesses II becomes pharaoh of Egypt, 1279BC

On this day in 1279BC, the king often called Ramesses (or Rameses, or Ramses) the Great, became pharaoh of Egypt. Known as Ozymandias by the Greeks, the pharaoh most remembered by history was a great military campaigner and a great builder of cities, temples and monuments. He became pharaoh in his late teens and ruled for the following 66 years. The Egyptian army consisted of about 100,000 men, and he used it to wage war against the Hittites and Nubians, routed the Sherden sea pirates who were harrying ships on the Mediterranean coast, thrust into modern-day Syria and Lybia. At home he undid many of the religious reforms of the Amarna period, returning Egypt to polytheism. After 30 years of rule, Ramesses himself became a god. He moved the capital of Egypt to a new city, Pi-Ramesses. He had many memorials to previous emperors remodelled to look like himself. He built Abu Simbel, the temples carved out of the mountainside, and the temple now called the Ramesseum, designed to keep the memory of Ramesses alive after his death, the “temple of a million years”, as well as a glorious tomb to the most important of his consorts, Nefertari. He died, in his 90s, possibly of an infection caused by a dental abscess, and was succeeded by his 13th son. His mummified body can now be seen in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010, dir: Luc Besson)

Though Luc Besson started out as a director (early films include Subway and Nikita), in recent years he’s been so occupied with the production side of things that he’s not got behind the camera so much. He made an exception for this adaptation of one of Jacques Tardi’s comic books – big in France, ignored most every other place – about a kind of female Indiana Jones, daring, drily witty and so proud of bearing that almost all who encounter her bend to her will.

Louise Bourgoin plays journalist and adventurer Blanc-Sec (Dry White, in French) and is charming, pretty and haughty enough to carry off the role (think young Mary Poppins rather than Edwardian Lara Croft). It’s a knotty, tangly plot, with Adèle on a “this time it’s personal” mission to save her comatose sister, aided by resuscitated Egyptian mummies, an old gent who knows how to waken the deeply somnolent and a pterodactyl swooping around Paris terrorising people.

There isn’t a non-eccentric character in it, there is a lot of running around, it’s all shot with deep chocolate-box filtration and there’s a clever mix of physical, stop motion and true CG effects. It’s Jules Verne steampunk meets the whimsy of Amélie and Besson clearly wants it to work.

So why have most people not heard of this charming, exciting, fun film? Maybe some of the swoops from inventive to kitsch are a bit maddening, and certainly the stabs at humour are, for the most part, utterly unfunny (seen one pterodactyl crapping on the head joke, seen em all). Or maybe for most people this just isn’t what you’d associate with a “French film” – where’s the long talky stuff, the gamine girls, the nudity?

But, come on, you’ve got to admire a movie with this much drive and plot, and with a breakout performance that singles Bourgoin out as a talent to watch. It’s a better, more intelligent, more coherent film than Spielberg’s Tintin, which it superficially resembles. But will we ever see the last two legs of the trilogy which was originally intended? It seems not. Never mind, we’ll always have Paris (menaced by a flying dinosaur).

Why Watch?

  • A great piece of entertaining adventure
  • Louise Bourgoin’s starmaking performance
  • Matthieu Amalric, almost unrecognisable beneath the prosthetics
  • The extraordinary production design by Hugues Tissandier

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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