The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec

Just about getting away with its own ridiculousness on account of being so damn charming, The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec is, for the most part, a silly delight of a film based on comics by Jacques Tardi. Director Luc Besson does a grand job of making soundtrack, story and scenography work together to create an exuberant – if rather ramshackle – tale for all those who thought Amèlie was missing was a certain je Night At The Museum sais quoi.

When we meet Adèle Blanc Sec – intrepid pre-WWI explorer, daring journalist, internationally acclaimed storyteller and serial magnificent hat wearer, she’s been sent to Peru by her editor to have more of her trademark adventures. The problem is that she’s in Egypt, trying to swear at a camel. Well, as we’re told fairly early on, she never much cared to listen to her editor.

Ignoring the worried looks and furtive mutterings of the natives, Adèle confidently declares she will break into a nearby Pharaoh’s tomb in order to gain access to his physician: a man traditionally buried right next to the ruler himself. Her sister is ill, you see, and she needs the ancient wisdom of Egyptian medicine in order to revive her. How on earth will carting an old corpse back to her sister in France help cure what ails her? Stupid question. Her friend is a scientist that can bring creatures back from the dead, of course – though rather annoyingly he’s currently being pursued by the police for unleashing a bloodthirsty pterodactyl on the skies of Paris. Still with us? Keep up please, Adèle doesn’t have time to deal with idiots, you know.

Although it’s a tale that would utterly unravel if you poked any of it too hard, Adèle Blanc-Sec‘s sticky joy in its own mad story just about ensures it all stays standing. At the centre of it all is a terrifically refreshing performance by Louise Bourgoin in a role that makes Lara Croft look… well… even more like bloody Lara Croft. The fearless Adèle is a proper heroine (ie one that never, ever turns up in blockbusters by Brits or Americans); disinterested in love, appearances, or apparently anything that might not end up killing her. Bourgoin brings exquisite comic timing as well as solid French disdain to the role, delivering scorching one-liners to those she deems unworthy with perfect, arch-eyebrowed ease.

Of course, cutting gracefully through a sea of foolish, bushy-faced law enforcers is nigh on impossible without a team of proper-good foolish, bushy-faced law enforcers, and Adèle Blanc-Sec provides them in abundance. From poor Inspector Caponi (spending the whole film desperate to eat something, anything) to Big Important Game Hunter Saint-Hubert (confidently donning a sheep-costume to lure in the rogue dino-bird), Adèle’s supporting bumblers play their ridiculous roles to perfection; every pop-eye and greasy moustache flutter only enhancing Miss Blanc-Sec’s exquisite cool.

With such a lively sense of play on offer, I almost feel cruel in saying that there are some serious problems with The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. The crux of the tale – her sister’s tragic accident and subsequent illness – feels utterly incongruous within the thigh-slapping, gung-ho world of Adèle, and I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that this aspect was invented entirely for the film. It’s a tale at its best when in a bubble of colourful, larger than life set-pieces, and poking around the fragile relationships only makes the whole thing burst. In attempting to strip away the cartoonish, Adèle Blanc-Sec does itself a disservice – it makes us wonder if there’s much left behind the noise, laughter and surprisingly polite mummified royalty. Still, at the end of the day this is Adèle’s tale and like the best storytellers, although you know in your heart there’s little truth in her words, you still relatively content to wriggle into the world she creates.

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