Film Scouts Reviews

"The Fifth Element"

by Lisa Nesselson

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For a while there, striking French airlines provided greater entertainment value than the Cannes Film Festival line-up. Striking French railways then took up the relay. These constant work stoppages in the national transportation sector remind me of the Festival's opening night film, because, like constant strikes, Luc Besson's movies tend to make very little sense.

As for Besson's costly, noisy, English-language extravaganza "The Fifth Element," according to the Periodic Table, atomic number 5 on the chart corresponds to "B" for Boron. Allow me to paraphrase the gent who said: "If music be the food of love, play on!" If Besson be the dude of film, bore on!

The Periodic Table came into being between 1890 and 1895, just like the cinema. And whereas I (and the broader universe) would be hard pressed to get along without the basic elements - not to mention the movies - I could get along very nicely, thank you, without Besson.

Could I be more specific? Sure. In his six-movie oeuvre to date, Besson has made two worthwhile films: "Le Dernier Combat" (1982) and "Atlantis" (1991). They have a salient feature in common: no dialogue. The first is a visually and conceptually audacious widescreen black and white tale of a post-apocalyptic world in which human vocal cords have been fried. The second is a lavish documentary about undersea creatures, set to music.

What about "Subway" (1985), "Le grand bleu" (1988), "Nikita" (aka "La Femme Nikita," 1990) and "Leon" (aka "The Professional," 1994), you ask? What about 'em? They went through the roof in France and huge chunks of the globe mistook them for movies worth seeing - often more than once. Box-office figures may not "lie," but neither do they tell the truth. "Jurassic Park" is a classic example of a terrible movie that made wonderful sums of money. So is "The Big Blue." Anyone with the price of a ticket is welcome to enjoy them if he or she so chooses and that is how it should be. But we should not make the mistake of equating commercial success with anything except commercial success.

I can hear Besson fans cursing in cyberspace, but Besson is that most exasperating of creative types: a born filmmaker who can't tell a cogent story and doesn't feel the slightest obligation to do so. He knows his audience, he's earned his success, he even seems like a nice guy, but none of that prevents him from being a blight on the narrative landscape.

Unless, of course, you're under age 25.

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