French cinema is a bit of an anomaly. It has a reputation for being progressive and daring, a hangover from the days of nouvelle vague. It also has a reputation of making incomprehensible films that contain sex, or dour movies filled with misery.
French cinema is a bit of an anomaly. It has a reputation for being progressive and daring, a hangover from the days of nouvelle vague. It also has a reputation of making incomprehensible films that contain sex, or dour movies filled with misery. However, like most countries, it is only the best of their content that makes it beyond the domestic market, which is probably a good thing because, as multi-hyphenate filmmaker Julie Delpy said, “95 percent of French cinema is shit”. Luckily we mostly get to see the other five percent.
While the more familiar French cinema is made up of harsh realities, they also do a great line in magical reality. Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) in particular, along with his old filmmaking partner Marc Caro, immediately spring to mind, as does the prolific and internationally renowned director/writer/producer Luc Besson, whose latest film sees him again mixing fantasy and action.
Based on a comic, it is the story of a popular novelist who finds herself involved in extraordinary adventures in order to save her sister, who had an unusual accident during a tennis match. Set it the early 1900s, it starts with quirky voiceover and the sweeping shots we are familiar with in Jeunet’s films. The opening of this film involves ancient magic, ladies of the night, love-struck suitors, hatching pterodactyl eggs, and the occasional red herring. This unlikely combination does actually make sense as the film unfolds into a cracking comedy adventure. While some people have called it a female Indiana Jones, it is much closer in tone and content to The Mummy, with Adele being more of an amalgam of Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’Connell and Rachel Weisz’s Evy Carnahan. The parallel is also helped by the fact that the film involves mummies, although not as malicious, and other ancient Egyptian shenanigans, but with more humour. Yes, that’s right, a French film with humour, and one that doesn’t rely on the usual French default toilet humour for its laughs, with a particularly funny prison escape scene. And being a French film it does still manage to slip in a nude scene with our attractive heroine in the bath for some unexplained reason.
Being a subtitled film it feels much closer to its comic book roots because you have to read the dialogue, and this is further enhanced by the third person voiceover, some interesting framing choices and the aforementioned magical reality. While everyone is waiting for the big Marvel comic movies, this French offering is equally entertaining, but with certain amount of art house cred and plenty of special effects and action to please the fan boys and girls, as well as a heroine who is very easy on the eye.