Sat 26 Apr 2014
THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC. 2010. First released in France as Les aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec. Louise Bourgon. Mathieu Amalric, Gilles Lellouche, Jean-Paul Rouve, Jacky Necessian, Philip Nahon, Nicolas Giraud, Laure de Clermont. Written and directed by Luc Beeson, based on the comic albums by Jacques Tardi.
Cartoonist Jacques Tardi is likely best known at this site for his iconic adaptation of Leo Malet’s hardboiled sleuth Nestor Burma to graphic form, but long before that he put pencil to paper to record the adventures of Mam’zelle Adele Blanc-Sec. early 20th century reporter, adventuress, and proto feminist extraordinaire.
And like the dry white wine she is named for Adele has snap and bite, a tall red haired lovely dreadnought ploughing all before her beneath her wake. She’s a lady on a mission, and nothing and no one will distract her.
Droll is the best way to describe this charming film which you may compare to The Assassination Bureau and Dinner for Adele (Nick Carter in Prague), two other charming forays in the early 20th century as seen through its popular literature and rose- colored glasses.
Bear with me as I try to describe the plot, though it is no easy task. In Paris Professor Esperandieu (Jacky Necessian) is experimenting with his power to project his mind when he awakens a pterodactyl in an egg in a museum in Paris. The new born escapes and promptly tries to eat the newly named Foreign Minister, who dies with his showgirl mistress in the Seine when his car is attacked.
Across town Inspector Caponi (Gilles Lellouche) is assigned to the case of the Minister and the pterodactyl and young scientist Zborowsky (Nicolas Giraud), who has a crush on reporter and author of Le Monstre du Glaces, Adele Blanc-Sec, and his mentor Professor Menard (Phillipe Nahon) have discovered their pterodactyl egg has hatched, a fact they would just as soon not share with Caponi so they put him onto Esperandieu as an expert in the Jurassic era.
Adele is busy in Egypt where she is stealing the mummy of Rameses II’s physician Patmosis despite double crossing native partners and her ruthless nemesis Professor Dieulveult (Mathieu Amaric). She won’t be deterred though, her sister Agathe needs care only the physician Patmosis can provide, and she is determined to return to Paris with his body where Esperandieu will awaken him to cure Agathe.
Adele outwits her greedy partners and escapes Dieulveult with the mummy in spectacular manner while piloting his coffin down the Nile.
Back in Paris as Adele is returning home with Patmosis, the government has summoned big game hunter Saint Hubert (Jean-Paul Rouve) to dispatch the pterodactyl and Esperandieu has been arrested and is about to be executed for his role in the minister’s death.
Still with me?
Now Adele has to rescue Esperandieu, awaken Patmosis, and save Agathe, who has a hat pin skewering her head and is in a trance-like state, thanks to a particularly savage return by Adele in a heated tennis game five years earlier.
While Saint Hubert and a reluctant and hungry Caponi seek the pterodactyl, Zoborowski lures the pterodactyl back to the museum, and a frustrated Adele attempts time after time to help Esperandieu escape.
One false move or note, and this kind of froth can fall completely apart, but writer director Luc Beeson (The Professional, La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element among others) keeps it moving like a clockwork and gets more than able support from his flawless cast, including his lead, Louise Bourgon — the image of Tardi’s Adele, if even more formidable.
And if she can’t rescue Esperandieu any other way she will break him out with the help of the pterodactyl as she rides it across the Paris skyline.
Even awakening Patmosis turns out to be less than helpful when it turns out he is nuclear physicist and not a physician, but a tour of Rameses II’s mummy and his court is at the Louvre, and the power Esperandieu used to revive Patmosis before he died (he was psychically linked to the pterodactyl who suffered a fatal wound from Saint Hubert) may have awakened Rameses and his court including the physician.
All she has to do is break into the Louvre with Agathe in a wheelchair and Patmosis re-animated mummy in a bowler hat and suit.
This clever and playful film walks a fine line between farce and fantastic adventure , by turns dime novel, silent serial, and gentle satire without ever murdering the delicate mood that calls for with a false move or step. Bourgon, in particular, as our heroine manages a fine balance between outspoken modern woman, brilliant adventuress, and vulnerable sister who only wants to atone for her mistake.
This won’t be for everyone, but if you enjoyed The Assassination Bureau, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, The Great Race, or Dinner with Adele, you will likely be delighted by this one.
And there is one joke, as dry as Adele’s name, that is worth the whole film when the awakened Rameses, admiring the courtyard of the Louvre notes it could use a pyramid.
Now why didn’t the French think of that?
The film ends on a perfect note as the lovestruck Zoborowski meets the revived Agathe and finds a new romance, and an exhausted Adele prepares to sail on a well deserved vacation — pursued by Dieulveult’s assassins — as her ship — the Titanic — sails …
Granted the CGI is a bit rocky here and there though more realistic would likely have ruined the look and character of the film. The special effects aren’t there to take away from the story anyway, but only to enhance it. Whatever else, this film, dedicated to Tardi, is tribute to his talent as artist and storyteller.
I warn you though, I haven’t done it justice, I don’t think any review could.