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Luc Besson sits on a coffee table sipping tea, his conversation quiet and down-to-earth.

The director best known for the 1991 hit ``La Femme Nikita'' (which was remade by Hollywood into ``Point of No Return,'' starring Bridget Fonda) sounds anything but ethereal or existential in offering an explanation about why Europeans often have difficulty making an American film in English.

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``The bad thing for Europeans is trying to change the game in Hollywood,'' he says. ``We can't change it. You can play or not, but you can't pretend you're going to change something.''

``It's very European to be sitting between two chairs. Most of the French, for example, say I'm going to make an intellectual movie, but it will not only be intellectual; we will have some action also.''

Mr. Besson's latest film, ``The Professional,'' which opened Nov. 18 in the United States, shows no middle-of-the-road ambivalence about action. Although in some ways like ``Nikita,'' the film allows the 35-year-old director to show his penchant for alternating flashy rushes of violence with interludes of tenderness.

The title character, played by French actor Jean Reno, is a hit man who's like a one-man police commando team. He lives a lonely, ascetic existence in Manhattan. He's addicted to milk, enjoys old movie musicals, and his only affection is directed at a houseplant until he succumbs to saving a 12-year-old girl's life.

Her family has been slaughtered by drug agents, and she persuades the professional to make her his prot while she teaches him about feelings that go beyond flora.

``They are like two teeny flowers in the middle of the mess,'' Besson says, explaining how the hit man comes to love and protect the girl as his plant.

No matter where people live, Besson says, there's a basic appeal to action movies. ``Most of us have a normal life. We wake up, go to work, come back home, have some weeks of holidays, and we try to be quiet and have a normal life. And movies are a kind of window that you can escape [through] for a few hours and pretend to see another life.''

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Besson thinks movie audiences are getting more educated and eclectic about cinema, possibly because of their exposure to myriad cable television channels and tons of choices at video stores. ``It's good news because it proves that people want to see something different. They want fresh things,'' he says. ``I don't ask for much more than that.''

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