Thursday, June 14, 2007
I must admit it took me awhile to warm up to the films of French director Luc Besson. In the eighties his films felt too Americanized and cold for me to consider him in the same league with other French directers his age such as Leox Carax and Jean Jacques Beineix.
All that changed in 1994 when I saw an evening showing of THE PROFESSIONAL with my uncle at a near empty theater in Bowling Green, Ky. Besson's exciting and moving film centers on a hired and lonely assassin Leon, played beautifully by Jean Reno, who takes in a young teenage girl played by Natalie Portman in her first role.
I liked THE PROFESSIONAL (or LEON as it titled in its superior longer form) so much that it made me go back and re-view Besson's previous output that I had originally been so hesitant about. While I still find LA FEMME NIKITA to be slightly overrated (I actually prefer Bridget Fonda in the American remake), his SUBWAY has become one of my favorite French films of the eighties.
The most haunting aspect of LEON is the performance of the just thirteen year old Portman. It is one of the great performances by a child actor in screen history and I still think one of the best performances of the nineties by a child or adult. She reminded me a lot of a young Natalie Wood, she had that same kind of depth and that same haunted old before her time look in her eyes. I remember seeing her on Letterman at the time of the LEON'S release and being so impressed by how obviously intelligent and thoughtful this young girl was.
Portman's talents have largely been wasted since her debut in LEON, most notably in the STAR WARS prequels, but her work in Mike Nichols CLOSER and James McTeigue V FOR VENDETTA served as splendid reminders that she might indeed be the best actress of her generation.
Besson has unfortunately only directed a handful of features since and none have measured up to LEON, although count me in as an admirer of both THE FIFTH ELEMENT and THE MESSENGER. Rumors have floated around for years about a follow up to LEON with Portman repeatedly saying she would do it in a heartbeat. I am torn between thinking they should just leave the original alone and wanting Besson to attempt it. Luc Besson needs to get his mojo back with a live action feature that puts him back on the streets of his early films, if that means a sequel to one of the most perfect films of the nineties then so be it.