The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec

***

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"This is the 20th century," Adèle Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin) has to keep reminding those around her. It is 1911, to be precise, but in fact, despite the prominence in the film of museums, museum pieces, and the resurrection of creatures that have been dead for thousands - and in one case, millions - of years, the plucky heroine always seems ahead of her times. Feisty, independent and utterly unstoppable, this roving novelist-cum-journalist falls somewhere between Tintin and Indiana Jones, yet offsets her fearless spirit of adventure with all the wide-eyed feyness (and stylish dress sense) of Amélie.

Ostensibly away on a research tour of Peru, Adèle diverts to Egypt to pick up the mummy of Ramses II's physician, in the hope that he, once revived, might be able to cure her twin sister Agathe (Laure de Clermont) who has remained bed-ridden in a zombie-like state since being severely injured in a freak hatpin accident during a 'friendly' game of tennis. Meanwhile both terror and scandal are being visited upon Paris by the young pterodactyl that Adèle's friend (and mad scientist) Esperandieu (Jacky Nercessian) has brought to life as practice for raising the mummy. But death from above is only one of several mild distractions, as an incompetent police detective (Gilles Lelouche), a lecherous President (Gérard Chaillou), a big game hunter (Jean-Paul Rouve), a guillotine and even Adèle's arch-nemesis Dieuleveult (Mathieu Amalric, unrecognisable in his make-up) all circle our unflappable heroine without ever managing to stop her inexorable progress into modernity.


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"Now we've mastered the unbelievable, let's perform the impossible," Adèle Blanc-Sec will declare at one point in Luc Besson's film, later telling her lovesick admirer Andrej Zborwski (Nicolas Giraud) that the recently injured pterodactyl and the dying Esperandieu are "connected – don't ask why or how". She may as well be talking to the viewer, for Luc Besson's The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec is a desultory concoction of the irrational and the incredible - with added retro chic. The titular heroine comes from the comicbook pages of Jacques Tardi, who, starting in 1976, has devoted nine albums to her outlandish old-world adventures, with a tenth, final volume on the way.

Adèle certainly makes for a strong female protagonist, and is expertly embodied by Bourgoin, combining winning charm with a determination that borders on the unhinged (not to mention refreshingly rude) – but the unhappy flipside to all this is that she is surrounded by an army of thinly drawn, largely supine males who are never engaging or funny enough to carry the film's dizzying multitude of subplots.

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Matching lavish period sets to surreal visual effects, Besson has crafted a feast for the eyes – but while there is absurdity aplenty on display here, the film also requires a very high tolerance for the broadest of humour and the slightest of whimsy. There is zero substance to all the considerable style, so that Besson's impressive spectacle ultimately leaves viewers feeling as empty and dissatisfied as the film's hapless, ever-hungry police inspector who is always being prevented from enjoying the taste and nourishment of the food paraded before his face.

That The Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec ends on a cliffhanger is, of course, in keeping with the serial nature of its source, but this also holds out the promise of an entirely unnecessary movie sequel. The fashion for cash-ins, it seems, never changes - even this far into the 21st century.

Reviewed on: 17 Apr 2011
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When a pterodactyl attacks Paris, an intrepid young journalist rises to the challenge.
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Director: Luc Besson

Writer: Luc Besson, from the comics by Jacques Tardi

Starring: Louise Bourgoin, Mathieu Amalric, Gilles Lelouche, Jean-Paul Rouve, Jacky Nercessian, Philippe Nahon, Nicolas Giraud, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Gérard Chaillou, Serge Bangdassarian

Year: 2010

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: France

Festivals:

Glasgow 2011

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