I knew about Adèle well before I saw the movie.
The Jacques Tardi series of comics called The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec had been one of the many I had discovered when, in my early years as a university student, I used to spend a lot of time in the bookstores scattered in the center of town.
With its rough, sometimes unpleasant style and its alternating light and dark plots, the series about an early 20th century adventure fiction writer and adventuress featured dinosaurs, Egyptian mysteries, strange conspiracies and retro-technology.
It was great fun, winking and gently mocking a lot of classics, from Verne to Conan Doyle to Leblanc.
And yet, when finally the Adèle Blanc-Sec movie was released in 2010, the first of a proposed trilogy, I caught it on the big screen, and I did not like it.
Or, better, I liked it, but not as much as I had anticipated.
Re-watching the film in the silence and heat of the Astigianistan hills, I finally saw what peeved me all those years ago, and I was sort of reconciled with the movie.
The plot in a nutshell: Adèle Blanc-Sec is an adventuress that in the 1910s looks for a mysterious Egyptian ritual with the purpose of restoring her sister’s health. At the same time, a pterodactyl is free in Paris – possibly for reasons connected with the aforementioned Egyptian ritual.
The point is, you can’t get into this movie expecting a standard fantasy adventure show.
Despite the premise, Adèle is not a female Indiana Jones – she is more of a mix of Arsene Lupin, Mata Hari and Sherlock Holmes, and the adventure develops in a number of unexpected directions. There’s an awful lot going on in the movie, and the trademark Tardi mix of gruesome details and affable levity can cause some disorientation.
I also blame the Italian dubbing – re-watching the movie in French, with a little help from English subtitles, was a much better experience.
The film looks like a million – great costumes and scenes, wonderful special effects. Gorgeous, extraordinarily photogenic Louise Bourgoin is much more attractive than the comic books original heroine, but she manages to get across the complicated personality of the heroine.
The male counterparts of Adèle are painfully inadequate, and slightly ridiculous in a stuffy, fin-de-siecle sort of way. The bad guys are positively grotesque, and the mummies are a hoot.
All in all, a great entertainment – and it’s a pity that, due to poor box office response in the USA, and despite a widely positive critical reception, the two follow-up movies never materialized. As some have pointed out, the American public was probably disoriented by a “cinecomic” that did not conform to the standards of American comics. And the restricted rating – due to the fact that Adèle smokes and is sometimes seen without veils – did not help.