Va­le­rian and the City of a Thou­sand Plan­ets

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - COMICS & PUZZLE - KATIE WALSH

At the age of 10, vi­sion­ary French film di­rec­tor Luc Bes­son fell in love with the French-Bel­gian space opera comic Va­le­rian and Lau­re­line by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mezieres. Chron­i­cling the wild ad­ven­tures of two sassy space cops, Va­le­rian and Lau­re­line is said to have in­flu­enced Star Wars and, of course, Bes­son’s 1997 sci-fi clas­sic The Fifth El­e­ment. Now, Bes­son’s cin­e­matic adap­ta­tion of his beloved child­hood comic, Va­le­rian and the City of a Thou­sand Plan­ets, hits the­aters in all of its glo­ri­ous spec­ta­cle.

Bes­son has cre­ated an in­tox­i­cat­ing, vis­ually en­chant­ing world in Va­le­rian — one that is richly and imag­i­na­tively ren­dered, deeply tex­tured and al­most over­whelm­ing. This film drops you into an

outer space world that knows no lim­its on space, time and di­men­sion, and asks the viewer to go along for this deeply weird roller coaster ride.

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delev­ingne star as Va­le­rian and Lau­re­line, a cou­ple of fed­eral space agents, a com­bi­na­tion of FBI, un­der­cover po­lice and Se­cret Ser­vice. They’re tasked with se­cur­ing a rare con­verter be­ing sold on the black mar­ket, but the seem­ingly sim­ple mis­sion leads to a govern­ment con­spir­acy to cover up the geno­cide of the peace­ful Mul people 30 years ago.

The sur­viv­ing Mul people, stag­ing their own small re­sis­tance, are like the Na’vi from

Avatar, not only in bear­ing — the Mul look like tall, thin pearles­cent Ma­sai war­riors — but in the way they co­ex­ist in peace­ful equal­ity with their en­vi­ron­ment. Fight­ing for their ex­is­tence is the no­blest of causes.

While the duo chase down leads, and es­cape from tricky pick­les, Va­le­rian makes an at­tempt to woo Lau­re­line, ask­ing her to marry him over and over again. This is the 28th cen­tury in space. People do their shop­ping in an­other di­men­sion. Jel­ly­fish have psy­chic in­nards. In a world that seems so rife with pos­si­bil­i­ties, why force their ro­mance into a tra­di­tion that seems rather mean­ing­less in this en­vi­ron­ment?

Per­haps the pro­posal thing feels so forced and awk­ward be­tween Va­le­rian and Lau­re­line be­cause there’s not much tan­gi­ble chemistry be­tween DeHaan and Delev­ingne. They’re both slight and wispy, not quite fill­ing the suits of these pow­er­ful space he­roes — at times they look like lit­tle kids next to their foes. DeHaan feels mis­cast, not the rak­ish play­boy charmer as this film tries to present him. He fades back over the course of the film, while Delev­ingne comes to the fore­front, with a mag­netic screen pres­ence es­tab­lished through the sheer force of her eyes. It’s a shame that her char­ac­ter’s name isn’t also in the film’s ti­tle, like the comic, as Lau­re­line is ev­ery inch the hero as Va­le­rian.

The mes­sage of Va­le­rian is a deeply hope­ful and hu­mane one, about the power of love and trust and set­ting aside pro­ce­dure and pro­to­col to do the right thing. It’s a movie about dis­solv­ing the lim­its of space and di­men­sion­al­ity in or­der to create a har­mo­nious ex­is­tence for all liv­ing crea­tures, and that ex­tends to hi­er­ar­chi­cal power struc­tures as well.

De­spite Va­le­rian and Lau­re­line’s hol­low ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship, and mo­ments where the film loses the story thread and sense of ge­og­ra­phy al­to­gether, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to not be swept away by Bes­son’s stun­ning world, and his beat­ing heart that drives the moral of the story home.

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