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Luc Besson: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec

We speak to the legendary director about bringing to life a classic comic book heroine and satisfying the human desire for fantasy

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec marks a return to live-action filmmaking for legendary French director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Leon, The Big Blue) after a six-year hiatus from the form. The whimsically absurd and quintessentially French adventure romp brings to life the much-loved comic strip heroine Adele (by revered comic artist Jacques Tardi) – a chain-smoking, no nonsense femme fatale who puts one in mind of a politically incorrect Tin Tin, played with vivacious enthusiasm by Louise Bourgoin.

This humourous film is characteristically exquisite in its aesthetic and presents a sumptuous vision of 18th century Paris, in which an undead pterodactyl is causing no small amount of havoc and undead mummified remains are freely wandering the streets. While the director was on a recent trip to London, we met up with him to discuss the allure of fantasy and why everyone secretly hopes to meet an alien.

Dazed Digital: You seem drawn to very fantastical and extraordinary stories, why is that?
Luc Besson:
Well, you know, most of the time we have this routine – we wake up, go to lunch, go back home, take care of the kids... and it is sometimes a very good life, but the unexpected is always something that we hope for. You don’t expect to have an old friend to knock on your door one night saying, ‘Oh my god! I just came back from Russia!’ But when that happens, it is wonderful.

DD: Is that sense of the unexpected something that’s very important to you?
Luc Besson:
I think what we’re looking for in a story is definitely this idea of something that will never happen – the idea that one-day an extra terrestrial will come in through the window. (Laughs) If an alien came in right now and said, ‘I’m sorry to cut your interview but I’m lost. Have you seen a spaceship?’ We would be like ‘Okaaay...’ Everybody wishes to have this type of meeting. In the film, we see Adele trying to wake up a mummy, which is impossible, and we think she can’t do it but she does. Then, of course, we expect the mummy to be scary but no, it is very polite, and that’s exciting. We would love that to happen in our lives - we want a fairytale full of nice and peaceful little monsters.

DD: It’s a very French film; do you think some of the humour will fail to translate internationally?
Luc Besson:
I don’t know. I think you just have to make the film with as much honesty as you can, and then you will have some surprises. Adele was very successful in China – very, very successful, taking a couple of million in admission. I went there and tried to find out what people liked about it and what really struck them was that it’s very exotic to see Paris in this way... It’s magical. The freedom of Adele as a woman also totally amazed them. They were so excited by that, and also just by the fact she’s very tall for woman. For them it was like, “Oh my God! She is taller than the man!”

DD: Louise Bourgoin has a very powerful presence as an actress, doesn’t she?
Luc Besson:
She is so powerful, so good... like Adele actually, but less crazy! Sometimes there are difficult shots where she makes it look so easy. For example, the scene when she undresses herself in front of the mummy is probably one of my favourites. It’s just the way she looks at the mummy and the way she is so free, standing there naked and smoking. There is no other moment where she talks to the mummy like this, and yet you don’t question why is she is talking to a mummy... you totally believe in it.

DD:  One thing I felt was interesting about the film was that there is this juxtaposition of beauty and the grotesque...
Luc Besson:
It actually comes from the time. The people back then were walking and talking like that – they really were a little grotesque because their health wasn’t so good, and the food wasn’t so good. They were almost deformed. Everything about the film comes from pictures we have seen from the time. Tardi, who made the original comic uses pictures too, so I asked him: “Tardi, can you give me the pictures that inspired you?’ The Chief of Police, Caponi (Gilles Lellouche) is in fact based exactly on a picture of a guy who worked in the police at the time.

DD: Adele is a very whimsical film, what do you think of the trend towards ultra-violence exhibited by certain French directors?
Luc Besson:
Everybody is free to do what he or she wants but I am not sure I always understand it. If you show violence to denounce violence then that is fine, but if it is on the verge of being complacent... yeah, it could be dangerous. Although, of course, I would prefer to have the film and not like it too much, than to not have the film! If you take Leon, the cop is a real asshole, but it gives you a chance at the end to fight against that. It shows you how deep and how bad it can be, but you can react to it.... There is a moral compass. Adele was wonderful to make because it’s great when you don’t have to carry a heavy purpose at all. I have made a couple of films, such as Joan Of Arc, where I have to take phone calls from the Vatican! (Laughs) Adele is more like skipping the main course and going straight to dessert! You know, you you can go and see this film with your kids or in a couple, or with friends... no matter what, you smile.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec is out tomorrow