We all know about most of the comic-based movies that have come out in the last few years, some good, some bad. But how many devoted comic fans have paid attention to a film based on a famous French graphic novel star? No, I'm not talking about Tintin, which (let's be honest) is kind of a mixed bag. I'm talking about the luminous Adèle Blanc-Sec, the star of Jacques Tardi's wonderful graphic novel series (See our review of Volume 2 here) and star of the delightful film The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, directed by Luc Besson and that finally arrived Stateside on Blu-ray and DVD this month.
There are a few good reasons that most Americans don't know this movie. For one thing, it's an import from France and who goes to see French imports these days? For another, though Adèle is tremendously popular throughout Europe, she's virtually unknown here, consigned to the obscurity and perfect reproduction of the publishing house Fantagraphics Books, who deliver gorgeous books but small marketing muscle for material like this. And, maybe most importantly, this movie has a distinctly French feel that just seems odd for us Americans.
I could also ask if the American audience is ready for a female action lead as a lead character in a movie, but that's a discussion for another time.
Adèle is a little bit like a French version of Indiana Jones without all of the over-the-top heroism and ridiculous American over-seriousness. This movie is a lark, an absurd and charming piece of puffery that amuses and charms but also has a rock-solid set of ideas at its heart. Our heroine leads an expedition to Egypt in order to bring mummies back to Paris as a way of helping to revive her sister, who was badly injured by Adèle in a strange tennis accident.
It's not spoiling things to say the mummies come to life (and are quite droll) and that there's a pterodactyl mixed up in this story too, and that our main character triumphs over evil, but the way she does so is so delightful and unique that her personality rules the screen.
As our Nick Hanover pointed out last year in our Top Ten Non-Superhero Comic Films list, Louise Bourgoin turns in a luminous performance in the lead role. The part of Adèle had to be tough – one moment she's a decisive action heroine, lighting a fire inside a pyramid, the next she's a whimsical makeup artist, the next she's mourning her sister's injury – but Bourgoin lights up the screen whenever she's on it, a charismatic lead that helps bring this completely absurd story to life. She's seemingly always on screen and always either being pursued or pursuing somebody; Bourgoin delivers a performance that shows why she would be the center of so many peoples' attention.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec was forgotten amidst the massive recent wave of comic book adaptations, but this droll, charming and thrilling French film is a real delight.