Luc Besson

1983
Le Dernier combat 66
[ Besson’s first feature, like “Angel-A”, is in B&W, but it’s as quiet as “Angel-A” the later one would be talkative. Offering a stripped down vision of a post-apocalyptic future, it somewhat announces “Children of Men” more than 20 years ahead; there’s also something of the earlier “The Omega Man” to it. Besson already proves to be a brilliant visualist, with a knack for crafting badass action scenes – the fights between Pierre Jolivet and Jean Reno are nearly “Commando” great, and I love the early plane escape, too. His questionable sense of humor is also already at work, alas. ]

1985
Subway 69
[ If “Le Dernier combat” was the birth of artsy Besson, this is his commercial coming out. During the opening sequence, it’s almost as if you were watching a “Taxi” flick! Then, this isn’t technically a sci-fi movie, but the way the subway tunnels are shot is positively Ridley Scottian (i.e. à la “Alien”). Christophe Lambert is surprisingly cool in spite/because of his ridiculous hairdo, Isabelle Adjani is as beautiful as always (and pretty cool herself, especially in the dinner scene) and the supporting players (Jean Reno, Jean-Pierre Bacri, etc.) are fun too. Add lotsa ’80s music, lotsa chases… Good times. ]

1988
Le Grand bleu 75
[ While the writing is not as sharp as it could have been, this is a truly beautiful film anyway. “Le Grand bleu” takes us around the world, from Greece to France, South America and Italy, as we follow the adventures of two free divers who have known each other since childhood. Jean-Marc Barr has an almost otherworldly presence here, and it’s interesting how the relationship between Rosanna Arquette and him doesn’t become a love triangle because of another woman (or man), but because of a dolphin! The hypnotic underwater cinematography and the dreamy Eric Serra music combine to make this into a sometimes almost impressionistic watch. I also got a kick out of Jean Reno as the rowdy Enzo, equal parts friend and rival to Barr’s character. ]

1990
Nikita 48
[ I hated this when I first saw it some ten years ago, and I ‘m still not a big fan, even though I like most other Besson movies. His usual visual prowess is still evident, the action scenes are pretty damn cool (especially when they involve Jean Reno’s “nettoyeur”!) and the relationship stuff is okay, but at the same time this can be such a grating movie. For one, I can’t stand Anne Parillaud; how the hell did her bloody awful acting win her the César? The general outline of a convicted murderer being recruited by the government to become an assassin is potent but, for my money, the American remake develops it into a more enjoyable movie. Or maybe I just find Bridget Fonda so much more compelling? ]

1991
Atlantis

1994
Léon 91
[ review ]

1997
The Fifth Element 91
[ 1997 review ]
[ 2017 review on Extra Beurre ]

1998
The Messenger

2006
Angel-A 81
[ review ]

 

2007
Arthur et les Minimoys 62
[ This starts out like the crappiest kiddie flick, with trite family melodrama surrounding a young boy (Freddie Highmore, really awful here) whose parents are never there, whose beloved grandfather has mysteriously disappeared and whose grandma (Mia Farrow embarrassing herself) has so many debts she’s about to lose the house they live in. Fortunately, the human portion of the story is relatively brief and once we get into the animated adventure, the movie is quite fun. I won’t bore you with the details of how little Arthur becomes even littler and enters the grass-level world of the Minimoys. In fact, the film should have scrapped the bookends and focused only on the fantastic quest Arthur embarks on, which takes him through various perils and all the way to the lair of the evil ‘M’. Borrowing from everything from the legend of King Arthur to “Lord of the Rings”, “Star Wars”, “The Matrix Revolutions” and, naturally, Besson’s own “The Fifth Element”, down to the influence of European bande dessinée and the badass redheaded female warrior! I found the design of the Minimoys and their world imaginative, I liked the colourful animation style and I was glad to see that Besson’s skill at crafting exciting action scenes is still apparent even in cartoon form. ]

2009
Arthur et la vengeance de Maltazard

2010
Les aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec

Arthur 3: la guerre des deux mondes

2011
The Lady

2013
The Family

2014
Lucy 82
[ “Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?” asks Scarlett Johansson in voice-over as we see a prehistoric woman drinking water from a river. Cut to sped-up images of modern-day Taiwan, where we meet Lucy, Johansson’s character, as she’s tricked into delivering a mysterious briefcase to a certain Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi). This early sequence is very suspenseful, in part because director Luc Besson cleverly intercuts image of a mouse approaching a trap and of a leopard stalking his prey. Soon enough, we’re introduced to CPH4, a drug that enhances intelligence, among other things. There are many interesting things that are said throughout the film about intelligence, which may not all be profound or even always make sense, but on a moment-to-moment basis at least, the ideas in Besson’s screenplay are stimulating, especially when they’re expressed by Morgan Freeman. This also leads to more use of intercut images and montage, which makes for a very visually dynamic film – cinematographer Thierry Arbogast and editor Julien Rey both do killer work here. And it’s not all lectures and documentary footage, of course: “Lucy” encompasses sci-fi and action movie elements, while also acting as a super-hero movie of sorts. Scarlett Johansson gets to be badass while also having some surprisingly emotional moments. Plus she has an opportunity to embrace her somewhat otherwordly quality, since Lucy grows increasingly post-human throughout the movie, which builds up to a sequence that calls to mind “2001” or “The Tree of Life”… All in a flick that also packs preposterous twists, a car chase and shoot-outs! “Lucy” is a pretty crazy ride that could easily be dismissed or mocked… I loved every minute. ]