Home > Film > Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec or Adele: Rise of the Mummy (2010)

Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec or Adele: Rise of the Mummy (2010)

France and Belgium have several noble traditions and one is the bande dessinée. Forget the notion of anything so crude as a comic and never dare compare them with the graphic novel. They are an institution of the best kind, spawning pale imitations in the rest of continental Europe. One of the more interesting of the series is Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec by Jacques Tardi, now brought to the big screen by Luc Besson. It deals with the adventures of Adèle, an investigative journalist who seems to end up in extraordinary situations.

This is a classic cinematic farce, bringing a series of endlessly improbable events to the screen with a quite wondrous sense of the absurd. Sadly, the dubbing wiped out the soundtrack. I would have appreciated the chance to judge the original use of language. But the succession of sight gags is sheer delight. As a child, I spent years watching many of the silent films being recycled. Although the talkies were the exclusive fare for the cinema, television used the older films as fillers. I was therefore subjected to Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, and absorbed the conventions of silent comedy. When I went to the cinema, I was then able to appreciate some of the best of the new breed like Jacques Tati who, in Jour de Fête and later films, created new ways to make us laugh without words being necessary. Think of this as an approach relying on a universal kind of laughter. It’s not related to a specific time or culture. It’s inherently amusing.

Luc Besson is attempting a modern farce with similar conventions where you are shown every component necessary to make the gag work, and then allowed to watch how all those components are brought together in sequence to get to the punchline. So, in the mummy’s tomb, you are allowed to examine all the different entrances and exits, to walk around the rooms and view machines. When a door opens and oil emerges on the the sand, you wait to be shown the cigarette lighter, and so on. Sooner or later, you know someone will fall in the machine and, having been shown exactly what it used to do, you wait to see exactly how it turns out in modern times.

The major elements that make this particular plot work are the “mad” professor with psychic abilities, the pterodactyl, the establishment of incompetent officials and, of course, the mummies who are urbane and civilised, and not a little disappointed we turned out, well, so unsophisticated. Fortunately, they are able to suggest the courtyard of the Louvre as a perfect place to build a pyramid — one of the more conventional “spoken” jokes.

When it comes to a comparison, it’s instructive to think of Stephen Sommers’ version of The Mummy. This is a brash Hollywood epic which, by mining the past conventions of “egyptian” stories, is able to bring us homage mixed with a little mockery. It’s entertaining in a take-no-prisoners style of film-making. It does make us laugh, but it’s an obvious and broad humour, exploiting our knowledge of past films to create contemporary enjoyment.

Adèle also depends on our understanding of the past, but it embraces our best memories and treasures them. It starts with the music which is a clever 1930’s or 40’s pastiche of all things Egyptian. The CGI recreation of Paris in 1912 is subtle and kind. The mockery of the overweight and magnificently hirsute upper class and officialdom is affectionate. We can see all their faults and forgive them because they had no sense of their own ridiculousness. They were passionate about their food, not a little prurient when it came to sex, and deeply incompetent when it came to getting anything done. Adèle, on the other hand, is everyone’s dream of an indomitable French woman. There was nothing such a woman could not achieve if she put her mind to it — even her approach to tennis would put Maria Sharapova to shame.

Although some of the CGI involving the pterodactyl is a little clunky at times, the mummies and human cast work round the small technical problems with considerable aplomb. Louise Bourgoin is calm and self-possessed no matter what is going on around her, while Jacky Nercessian is perfect as the resurrectionist mad professor.

Overall, this was a wonderful way of passing time in the cinema. I regret the dubbing, but can understand why a distribution company should think it necessary. Subtitled films do not sell in the US. Frankly, even with the dubbing, I am not sure this film will sell in the US. I would like to hope it would but it’s so European in general, and French in particular, I fear the cultural gap will be too great. There is action. Sadly, it’s not the kind of Hollywood action audiences expect to see in “mummy” films. Where were the car chases and explosions? Why was there no bloodshed (not counting the sheep)? All in all, there’s too much whimsy in the fantasy. The horror is not hard-hitting. For God’s sake, it’s an intelligent farce, a comedy! How can this be watchable cinema in the US? So, given all its weaknesses, let’s selfishly keep this as an unappreciated treasure for ourselves in the rest of the world. We can unhesitatingly recommend it to each other and smile indulgently when “they” don’t get the joke.

  1. February 21, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Saw this yesterday and loved its charm and magic.

    Sheer cinematic fun and, like most Beeson films, beautifully shot and with a mesmerisingly beautiful main star.

    Luckily I saw it with the orginal French audio which only serves to make the film even more enjoyable. Will be buying the DVD.

    Such a shame this sort of thing doesn’t sell across the Atlantic.

    • February 21, 2011 at 6:56 pm

      I thought it terrific fun. Although it’s different, I greatly enjoyed Coursier, which is like Jour de Fete except it’s a Parisian deliveryman caught up in a manic situation instead of a village postman. If your French is good enough, it’s also magnificently coarse. Hopefully, both DVDs will be distributed on your side of the Atlantic since I seriously doubt that Coursier will get distribution in the US. As you say, it’s a shame. There are some great “foreign” films out there.

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