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Miami Career Achievement Tribute to Luc Besson

In honoring Luc Besson with this year’s Filmmaker Tribute, the Miami International Film Festival singles out a director who is uniquely recognized as both a European film auteur and a major Hollywood player (no small task). In his varied career, the films of Luc Besson have 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 13 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 Award-winning THE FIFTH ELEMENT, and the story of the 15th 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), Besson still has found time to direct two new films this year that are very much part of his oeuvre: the partially animated ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES and the romantic comedy-fantasy film ANGEL-A, set in a real, yet highly stylized, Paris.

Besson is notoriously camera-shy and rather adverse to intellectual assessment of his films. In one of his rare interviews, he recently mused: “"Why did I make SUBWAY? Why did I do all that crazy undersea stuff in THE BIG BLUE? Why did I go all black and nasty with LA FEMME NIKITA?. I don't know. Because I did. I do what I do because I want to do it, because I want to explore, go looking for things."

Besson has been nominated and received awards from film bodies and film festivals all over the world, including: the Czech Lion (Best Foreign Language Film for THE PROFESSIONAL); 9 César Award nominations (THE MESSENGER, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, THE PROFESSIONAL, LA FEMME NIKITA, THE BIG BLUE, SUBWAY, LE DERNIER COMBAT); Italian Syndicate of Film Journalists (Best Director, LA FEMME NIKITA); Lumiere Awards (Best Director, THE MESSENGER; Best Director, THE FIFTH ELEMENT), Montreal Film Festival (Grand Prix Special For Cinematographic Art, 2002); and the French National Academy Award (Best Film and Best Director, THE BIG BLUE).

Monsieur. Besson will be feted at a sparkling ceremony held this evening at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, followed by an on-stage interview by National Public Radio film critic David D’Arcy (which will also feature clips from Besson’s best known films). Following the Tribute, the Festival will screen Besson’s latest work, ANGEL-A, starring France’s hottest young actor Jamel Debbouze (AMELIE) and Danish beauty, Rie Rasmussen, in a surrealistic love story that is also a heartfelt valentine to the City of Light.

Sandy Mandelberger
Miami Daily Wrap Editor


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