The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec

Year: 2010
Studio: Europa Corp
Director: Luc Besson
Producer: Luc Besson
Writer: Luc Besson
Cast: Louise Bourgoin, Mathieu Amalric

One of the first things this film made me wonder was just why there are so few attractive young actresses who have a real sense of screen presence and comic timing. Most American films (and the regional film movements that emulate them) call on young, attractive women to do little more than pout sexily, breathe a few lines and sleep with a man.

As the titular heroine adventurer, the gorgeous Louise Bourgoin is fantastic. She has real expression and range in her face. You totally believe her as a can-do woman with a mission and no time for the irritating obstacles in her way. She doesn't once take her clothes off, seduce a man or bat her eyelashes to get what she wants. Her smile is genuine, her eyes sultry and the flashes of anger or shock across her face are confident and authentic.

One of the next things to come to mind is to wonder who'd think up such an offbeat tale? Without knowing in advance, you probably wouldn't think it was Luc Besson. Admittedly he bases his script on a comic book, but he's been writing and producing (and occasionally directing) ultraviolent European action films for so long it's easy to forget how talented he is when he does something different. Just look at the sweet, enigmatic Angel-A.

We meet the young adventurer Adele in early 20th century Egypt, on the trail of what we assume is a valuable trinket. She overpowers and outsmarts the guides who attempt to betray her, and escapes with her quarry (the mummy of Ramses II's personal surgeon) in Indiana Jones fashion down a raging underground river.

At the same time, an old man in Paris (Amalric) with a mysterious power to raise the dead brings an unhatched pterodactyl to life in the museum. Once out of its egg, the prehistoric creature takes to the skies of Paris while the most bumbling police force since the Keystone Kops are put on the case.

We learn more about Adele's mission as she returns to Paris when we see the secret room that's home to the corpse of her dead sister. I won't reveal it all here – there's a lot of plot, but at every turn you'll wonder who could come up with such a story even as you enjoy it.

It's kind of a family film and has a heavy dose of fantasy. There's nothing Lynchian about it – everything makes sense in the world of the story – but it must be one of the most original films of recent years.

And it's all carried on the shoulders of a 31 year old woman who shines above the rest of the cast, the effects and a densely plotted and crazy story. Being ultimately the story of a woman trying to save her sister, it passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, and it's refreshing enough to see that even without CGI pterodactyls, old men with unexplained powers of resurrection, and the reanimated body of Ramses II strolling around 1910s' Paris.

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