Bessons Women Who Kick Ass – The Fifth Element (Film Review)


So, on the heels of films as interesting and promising as La Femme Nikita, The Big Blue, Leon the Professional and Subway, Luc Besson comes up with what can only be described as a vanity project spawned from the days when it is easier to believe one is a genius (the early teen years) and it turns out to be precisely that, marking Besson as the most peculiar of filmmakers who truly does whatever he wants, with a budget to match that self-indulgence. The Fifth Element is a film that no woman could make, simply because no funding conglomerate would ever support something that highlighted the nonsense teen age girls fantasise about, and for the most part, this is because we don’t want to know what teen girls fantasise about – we only want to tell them what they fantasise about. What becomes exciting about Luc Besson, is The Fifth Element does end up looking a lot more like a teen girl fantasy, with all the emphasis on set decoration, costuming (hello Lady Gaga ten years earlier) and the placing of people in a room that looks a lot like someone playing Barbies. The star of the show is, of course a woman, who will save the world, and the man who saves her, is more of a bodyguard she falls in love with, than the source of all power (ie, female appropriation of male power). Like all teenage girl love stories, the details are sketchy, domesticity is never addressed and there is certainly no children and very little possibility of them. The films violence is entirely campified out of all semblance of reality with a preference for outfits, makeup and set design, and love is something that will save the world, not something that gives a little girl context for her useless life. Unlike Leon The Professional, the great villain Zorg (who even speaks to The Great Evil on the phone at one point – very teenage girl) never reaches the same depths of villainy and Gary Oldman instead portrays a camped up wimp with a Southern Drawl lacking in back story. He’s just bad cause someone has to be bad so the kick-ass heroine can be good.


And what a heroine. It’s not just that Mila Jovovich is ultra cool, she has orange hair and is beautiful because she is The Fifth Element, not because dudes think she’s hot – which of course they do – but she is still able to keep them all at bay. The first time the devilishly cute Bruce Willis (gee he was gorgeous in his day) tries to kiss her, she places a gun to his head and says “Not without my permission” in a way that leaves him with no doubt of what needs to transpire between them before he gets to take the lead. She is not chaste by any means, she just wants to choose for herself, and in this, she is described as “perfect”, another fetish of teenage girls. The films central message is that women are the last great piece of the puzzle, after fire, water, wind and earth, that will protect us from evil, and it is primarily the task of men who love women, to clear the way for them. In a film that could easily have detracted from that message, Besson goes to great trouble to retain it, while it is all couched in enough stupidity to protect us from having to think too seriously and catch ourselves discovering something we go to great trouble to prevent ourselves from seeing. In short, it is the teen girl fantasy, that she will be magically discovered to be so special she will save the world, and look fabulous and be pursued by a hot guy the whole time, with whom she will be able to have fantastic sex without having to have a baby or become a wife.


It turns out, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Besson is straight – something you’d never gauge from The Fifth Element. Roger Ebert might think it is obvious this was written by a teenage boy, but it certainly was not written by one playing Tour of Duty, Mortal Kombat or Doom. One of the undiscussed secrets about Luc Besson is that his films are female-centric in perspective, something not easily identifiable. Not that Besson necessarily gets away with his themes, but female directors making films with the female perspective slant so obviously brought to the fore would not be dealt with as kindly. We’re more comfortable with Catherine Hardwicke making Twilight, than if she re-made Joan of Arc, made a statement about men and women such as Besson makes in Leon the Professional or dared to make something as audaciously feminine as The Fifth Element. The disproportionate hysteria around books and films like 50 Shades of Grey show we still can’t leave women alone to enjoy their nonsensical fluff in the same way that we leave men to their nonsense. Besson constantly flouts this perceptive inequity by making films about women that women can’t make for themselves, and yet the problems he is tackling are so pervasive, even women can’t recognise when something interesting is being offered them. Besson is an anomaly. He’s hard to place, hard to work out. It’s even difficult to tell if he’s a good director or not. My contension is that this is largely due to his female-centric point of view, and over time his real brilliance will come to the fore.