- Essays on Luc Besson: Master of Spectacle
Essays on Luc Besson is a welcome addition to the relatively small amount of literature dedicated to one of contemporary Europe's most influential filmmakers and, perhaps more relevantly, one of world cinema's more powerful producers. As such, the book should be of interest not only to French film scholars, but also to those working in fields as diverse as sf, action film, the mainstream industry and European cinema. With essays that chart Besson's career from Le dernier combat / The Last Battle (France 1983) through to his work as a producer in the twenty-first century, it provides scholars with a thorough overview of the Frenchman's work, including recurring themes (identity, gender) and his major stylistic tropes (his use of expressive costumes, sets, music, etc.) – although anyone serious about studying Besson in greater detail should also refer back to Hayward's landmark monograph, Luc Besson (1998), and various other works (most of which are conveniently listed in Essays on Luc Besson, 190–2).
The collection opens with a long-overdue translation of Raphaël Bassan's seminal study of the cinéma du look, 'Three French neo-baroque directors: Beineix, Besson, Carax from Diva to Le Grand Bleu'. Powrie's translation is fluent and neat, while Bassan's essay reaffirms Besson as relevant to academia, above all because over the last twenty years he has fared considerably better than his fellow look directors, Jean-Jacques Beineix and Léos Carax, who have since descended into comparative obscurity.
The Bassan essay is followed by arguably the most interesting piece in the collection, Rosanna Maule's 'Du côté d'Europa, via Asia: the "post-Hollywood" Besson', which explores (some of) the enormous amount of work that Besson has undertaken as a producer and, more generally, as a film businessman in the past few years. (Since the release of Jeanne d'Arc / Joan of Arc (France 1999), Besson has produced, executive-produced or is producing as many as seventy [End Page 295] productions, having established his third and most ambitious production company, Europa Corp., in the late 1990s.) Maule also raises important questions about Besson's arguable status as a 'transnational' filmmaker: although Besson is outspoken in his desire to promote France and French culture abroad, he is also often perceived as being too 'American' (Hollywood's Zeus has seduced and raped Besson's Europa?), as well as somehow 'un-French' in his desire to create a series of commercially successful international co-productions (particularly in Asia). Given film studies' overwhelmingly liberal and 'arthouse' bent in studies of 'transnationality', Maule's essay could prove an interesting polemic for the precise definition of what 'transnational' really means and/or what agenda is hidden behind common uses of the term.
Gérard Dastugue and Mark Brownrigg provide two stimulating essays on the work of composer Eric Serra in the films of Besson. Although the essays come close to repeating each other at times (for example, charting the evolution of the complexity of Serra's 'sound'), they provide useful counterpoints: Dastugue argues that Serra's music is often given more prominence than the visuals in Besson's films, while Brownrigg suggests that the two have evolved coterminously. Beyond the study of Besson, Brownrigg in particular points to the possibility for more work on the analysis of director-composer collaborations and, after Donnelly's Film Music: Critical Approaches (2001) and others, serious considerations of film music in general.
There follow two essays by the book's editors. Powrie analyses the use of male costumes, and in particular suits, in Besson's films, an essay that culminates in a fascinating study of Le cinquième element / The Fifth Element (France 1997), in which Bruce Willis simultaneously re-enacts and subverts his hero-in-a-t-shirt role from Die Hard (McTiernan US 1988), and in which Chris Tucker plays the ambiguously gendered and outrageously costumed Ruby Rhod. Hayward, meanwhile, outlines the similarities and differences between Besson's two sf films, Le...