Introductions to Great Film-makers: Week Five – Luc Besson

La Femme Nikita, Angel-A 11 February 2010

Who is he?

French writer, director and producer Besson has worked on over fifty films over a period of twenty-six years. Having made his name as a director and writer, Besson has since become a driving force as producer for the Taxi and Transporter action series. A more than impressive career for someone who grew up wanting to be a marine biologist – until a diving accident at the age of 17 changed the course of his life.

Why should I watch his films?

It may be due to unfortunate circumstances, but I’m very thankful for the fact that Luc Besson took an interest in film. His work in the nineties provided me with one of the best film educations anyone could get. A specialty he has fined tuned to perfection is his ability to take the mundane and give it a kooky and captivating twist. A prime example would be The Fifth Element (1997); here Bruce Willis’ future taxi driver is turned into a world-saving hero, facing off against a deliciously mad Gary Oldman. His pictures combine both style and substance. His stories are beautifully realised and are always fantastically textured. The visuals have equal standing to and compliment the brilliant characterisation. Besson has the knack for making us root for people that are not entirely savoury by feeding them with witty and poignant words. The man himself may have said ” is not a medicine that will save anyone’s life. It is only an aspirin”, but his presence has certainly given the industry itself a healthy boost.

Where to start:

He wrote and directed the wonderfully troubling Leon (1994), starring a young and already obviously talented Natalie Portman as Mathilda, a orphaned girl living next door to Leon – a hit-man played by Jean Reno. Reno reluctantly becomes her caretaker and rather disturbingly educates her in his trade, in order for her to exact her revenge on her parent’s murderers. Although it is clear Mathilda is an unusual companion, the film manages to stay the right side of edgy; the concept is never exploited for shock value. Instead Besson creates an odd couple worth watching.

Where not to start:

Steer clear of Taken (2008), a sensationalist and silly story about a father who it seems single-handedly beats up the whole of France in order to find his kidnapped daughter. Besson only has writing credits on this one but it appears he traded the brains for excessive brawn.

Next steps:

La Femme Nikita, Angel-A