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Career Achievement Tribute to Luc Besson


The Miami International Film Festival will honor French filmmaker Luc Besson on Wednesday, March 7, 7:00 p.m. at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts.

In honoring Luc Besson with this year’s Filmmaker Tribute, the Miami International Film Festival singles out a director whose films have uniquely achieved both immense international popularity and an enduring cult appeal. The term “A Luc Besson Film” summons up a very specific mental image—a kinetic, action-filled, frequently violent narrative, with a stylishly rendered, visually rich atmosphere. While this is largely true of the 10 films Besson has directed, key is that these qualities are not just surface style, but a unifying approach that reveals a consistent personal connection to these visions of solitary characters struggling in very particular worlds set apart.

The son of scuba diving instructors, Besson spent much of his youth traveling the world with his parents on dives, developing a deep connection to the undersea world and the creatures that inhabit it. An intended career as a marine biologist was cut short at 17 due to a serious diving injury and his subsequent late teen years spent in suburbs 60km from the lights of Paris fueled his imagination into creating characters and fictional worlds of his own that would surface again later in his new career. For when he did move to Paris to finish school, he discovered cinema and found his future—dropping out to immerse himself totally in this new ocean of images.
When he made his feature debut at 24—after honing his skills working crews in Hollywood and as an assistant director in France—it was a stunner: Le Dernier Combat, an inventively shot dialogue-free post-apocalyptic drama, signaled the arrival of a new auteur and won nearly 20 international awards. This fully imagined world was followed by others in a string of now well-known films that meld genre with elements of fable, fairy tale and mythology—a literal underworld of criminals and strivers in the fluorescent-lit Subway, the contemplation of an earthly paradise set amongst deep sea divers in The Big Blue (Besson’s most personal film), a female government assassin fighting for her life and identity in the thriller La Femme Nikita, the unlikely soul mates of a hit man (Jean Reno) and a young girl (Natalie Portman’s debut) who survive a violent New York in The Professional, airborne cabbie Bruce Willis fighting evil 250 years in the future in the dazzling Cesar-winning The Fifth Element,  and the story of the15th century’s most conflicted loner, Jeanne d’Arc, was told anew in The Messenger.

Although working increasingly more frequently as a producer, Gary Oldman’s Nil by Mouth, and Tommy Lee Jones’ Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada to the hit Taxi and Transporter franchises, Besson still has found time to direct two new films this year that are very much part of his oevre: partly animated Arthur and the Invisibles and Angel-A (playing at MIFF) a romantic comedy-fantasy set in a real-yet-stylized Paris. For his distinctive body of work that never loses sight of the audience, the Miami International Film Festival is pleased to salute Luc Besson.

The Tribute includes a retrospective selection of film clips and an on-stage discussion followed by a screening of Angel-A.  In this supernatural comedy, a man deep in debts to loan sharks considers jumping off a bridge, and André (Jamel Debbouze) is ready to take the plunge. And why not? He’s already been dangled off the Eiffel Tower for owing tens of thousands of euros, and the day is only half over. But when he spots a statuesque blonde leaping into the Seine, André instinctively saves her life, and his own. Seeming supernatural, clad in a skimpy black dress, and little more, the radiant Angela (Danish sexpot Rie Rasmussen) curtly describes herself as a “six-foot slut.” As it turns out, she’s come down from heaven to look after André and help turn his life around, which in this case means using her seductive manner and deadly martial arts to settle any outstanding business.

Baroque action director Luc Besson changes gears with this hilarious romantic fable, his tenth film as a director and his first in years to not rely on big-budget special effects to propel the story. Gone, too, are opulent set design and green-screen backdrops. The director, shooting in a widescreen palette of ravishing black and white, instead sets most of his scenes at dawn on the hallowed streets of Paris, making the city feel empty, intimate and positively ethereal. Led by an unconventional hero—the diminutive French comic Debbouze—the luminous, frivolous and poignant Angel-A is a heartfelt valentine to the City of Light.

Sandy Mandelberger, Miami Online Dailies Editor

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Mandelberger Sandy

March 6-15, 2009

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