Luc Besson: Heroine Chic

The French Director On The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

Following a six-year hiatus, French auteur Luc Besson, pictured above, is making his much-anticipated return to live-action film with whimsical fantasy The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. Based on Jacques Tardi’s Franco-Belgian comic of the same name, the steampunk adventure is shot through with anti-establishment subtext and stars Louise Bourgoin as the beguiling Adèle, a Gauloise-smoking beauty on a quest to revive her deceased sister. Set in fin de siècle Paris, the story sees the heroine cross paths with an undead pterodactyl on the rampage in the city and a mummified Egyptian corpse, finding time for Daumier-style send-ups of police chiefs and malcontents along the way. We talked to the man behind Leon, La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element about his penchant for steely women.

With the film’s title in mind, is it crucial that your movies contain something extraordinary?
Yes. With every shot I need to feel something otherwise I won’t want to edit the film. Unless I get a take where I am constantly smiling, or saying “wow”—if I don’t get the chill down my spine—then I just have to keep shooting.

Your films have featured numerous tough heroines, including Nikita, Natalie Portman’s character Mathilda in Leon, and now Adèle. Where does the fascination come from?
I think I just try to treat women—who, by the way, deserve it—in the best way possible. Female characters are so rich and interesting. If you remember the 1980s, all the heroes were male: Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Stallone, Bruce Willis. The girls were basically crying in the back. It’s boring. I loved the films, but I always wondered: where are the women?

Adèle is very rebellious for a woman in her era, isn’t she?
Totally. In 1912, women were not allowed to vote, to do sports, to smoke. They were not even allowed to take a bath naked on their own. Adèle is modern and politically incorrect, and we have her smoking and drinking naked in the bath. She just doesn’t care and I love that.

What inspired the light-hearted tone of Adèle?
Well, when I started the film we were in the middle of a global crisis and I just thought, people have so much heavy stuff in their heads right now, let’s just have an ice cream. A big vanilla ice cream with chocolate, nuts and fudge.

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