When it comes to science fiction and fantasy films, it came to my attention a long time ago that the French were turning out some the most enjoyable and memorable genre films in the world, and Luc Besson has been a big part of the reason why.
The films of Luc Besson, including films like La Femme Nikita (1990), Léon: The Professional (1994), The Fifth Element (1997), The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999), Angel-A (2005), Arthur and the Invisibles (2006), and Lucy (2014), are all immensely enjoyable and memorable films. His latest film arrives this week, based on the iconic French comics Valerian and Laureline. Saying Besson is one of the best and most influential film makers in the world is no exaggeration.
As writer, director, and producer, Besson has so far played a role in creating more than 50 films, all using a distinctive style dubbed Cinéma du look by critics. Besson’s career of notable achievements includes a nomination for a César Award for Best Director and Best Picture for his films Léon: The Professional and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. He won Best Director and Best French Director for his sci-fi action film The Fifth Element (1997). He wrote and directed the 2014 sci-fi thriller film Lucy. All in all, he has had an incredible career in film making, and there’s still more to come.
Critics cite Besson as a pivotal figure in the Cinéma du look movement, a distinct, highly visual style produced from the 1980s into the early 1990s, a latter day version of the modern French new wave cinema of the 60’s and 70’s ascribed to French film makers Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut.
Another thing I love about Besson’s films are the stories they tell. I consider him to be a master storyteller of the sorts of stories that are both charming and captivating that strike at the bull’s eye of our hearts, or maybe better expressed as, aimed at the child’s heart that still lives within us all. The films are also fun and often filled with whimsy, although they sometimes deal with grim subject matters in a way that reaffirms the good in life and people.
LA FEMME NIKITA (1990) – The film stars Anne Parillaud as the title character, a teen who robs a pharmacy and murders a policeman. Sentenced to life in prison, where her captors faked her death and give her the choice of becoming an assassin or being killed. After intense training, she becomes a talented killer. Her career as an assassin goes well until a mission in an embassy goes awry. Her journey transforms her, it seems like things will only get worse, and that she is doomed, but she somehow emerges triumphant. A modern dark fairy tale.
LEON; THE PROFESSIONAL (1994) – written and directed by Luc Besson. It stars Jean Reno and Gary Oldman and features the motion picture debut of Natalie Portman. In the film Leon (Reno), a professional hitman, reluctantly takes in 12-year-old Mathilda (Portman), after the murder of her family by corrupt Drug Enforcement Administration agent Norman Stansfield (Oldman). Léon and Mathilda form an unusual relationship, as she becomes his protégée and learns the hitman’s trade. The film is full of humorous moments as well as an interesting juxtaposition of Leon’s dark journey interrupted by his growing friendship with the girl.
THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) – directed and co-written by Luc Besson. It stars Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, and Milla Jovovich. Primarily set in the 23rd century, the film’s central plot involves the survival of planet Earth, which lands squarely on the shoulders of Korben Dallas (Willis), a taxicab driver and former special forces Major, after a young woman (Jovovich) falls into his cab. Dallas joins forces with her to recover four mystical stones essential to the defense of Earth against an impending attack. This film set the standard for science fiction films from that point on and remains one of the best examples of science fiction films ever made today.
ANGEL-A (2005) – Directed by Luc Besson, is a 2005 French fantasy and romantic drama film featuring Jamel Debbouze and Rie Rasmussen. This movie is long on fantastical elements when an angel falls into the life of and down-on-his-luck small time hustler with catastrophic results that ultimately lead to both of their salvations. A theatrical film filled with humorous moments, and one of my favorites by Besson.
LUCY (2014) – written and directed by Luc Besson and produced by his wife Virginie Besson-Silla for his company Europacorp. The film takes place in Taipei, Paris and New York City. It stars Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-Sik and Amr Waked. Johansson portrays the title character, a woman who gains psychokinetic abilities when a powerful designer drug gets into her bloodstream. You are better off not thinking about the science behind this one too much and just enjoy it for the ride. A fast paced thriller that’s a lot of fun and even a little thought provoking.
VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017) – An upcoming 2017 French science fiction action film produced, written and directed by Luc Besson. With a story based on the French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline, written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières. It stars Dane DeHaan as Valérian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline. The film arrives on 21 July 2017 worldwide and on 26 July in France. Highly anticipated.