Interview with Luc Besson / Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Tiana sat down with Luc Besson on his recent Australian visit to chat about his latest film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

TM: What films influenced you/made an impact on you in your youth? Now I know you have stated that as a child you were “polluted by the world of cinema”, thus what forms of art, if art itself, made an impact on you?

LB: Yes, well cinema and art are just a reflection of the real and what is going on. I don’t believe there was any film that made an impact on me, well at least not one that really made an impact on me in that sense. What made an impact on me was the world, what I was seeing. The places, experiences, sunsets, the sea. Art or cinema is not where I got it from, it is the real world, it is the real places. That’s important, you cannot just look at a painting or just watch cinema, you need to be out there. Art and film should not come before, as methods of inspiration than real life. Art is a reflection of that.

I think I was lucky because rather than being stuck behind those, I was actually observing and looking. Where can original or fresh ideas come from otherwise? Everything would just be the same, no? So no, there was not really any film or form of art that made an impact on me. Perhaps there were some French directors who may have influenced my style, but that came later on in my life.

One of the words you use to describe yourself on social media is “stubborn”, in regards to making the film, what creative choices did you have to compromise?

For Valerian, unlike my previous films, the technology was available; the studio in Paris allowed its creative endeavours. The general level of technology allowed for a lot of options and decisions, and by this time I had established myself as a director so there was a freedom that, well, perhaps, that I did not have with my previous films.  Also, after watching films prior to starting the project, you know, ones that showed me the potential of now what could be achieved. That’s when I realized that the technology was available and it could be done. It could be possible. It’s about testing for the impossible. Of course you can not make a film without certain compromises,  but for this one, I waited until the right time, worked with a really talented and brilliant cast and it came together the way I imagined it to come along. Cara and Dane amazed me and we just had a lot of fun on set. That helped it come together.

When making the film, I also made it at a time that suited it. I started to think about it 20 years ago but the technology was not there so it could not be made anyway. I then started Mezieres, the concept designer, he brought it up, while I was working on the Fifth Element. I then watched it (the comics and its reproductions) again and my answer was that it was not possible.

The comics are noted for their strong humanist and left-wing liberal political ideas, with your film centring around universal notions of discrimination and exploitation between races.  How did you feel that you should approach this?

It was incredibly important for me. Well, its something that I just don’t understand about this world. The growing, you know, division between people based on race or religion or gender. I don’t understand how this can still be a part of our society, still and so prominent. So when making the film, that was something I felt needed to be addressed, of course. We treat our dogs, our cats, our pets better than we treat the people around us. There is no compassion or empathy as per say, that we feel for each other, as evident in the news these days. For me, Valarien, addresses this and responds to the issue in its own way. It is about the differences between different species and the resulting violence and politics that go along with it.

Even with Lauraline, I wanted to portray a strong female, who is just as important as her male counterpart. He is a little pretentious; he knows his strengths and his skills, so he takes the lead. But actually, he can’t do it without her. He needs her. This was one of the parts of the comics that I felt was important. There is a moment in the film, where, Laureline has to save him and she’s then taking on his “role”. They are complementary together. He is also made by the rules, but she does not follow the rules like that, she follows her emotions. So he needs her. In that sense she has is empowered. I like to show the different image, when women are strong.

How do you get your audience to enjoy what is seemingly unfamiliar, the French comics and this new universe you create. Is that something you consider?

(laughs). At this point, you just have to make the film. I was not concerned about whether people would, I guess, on some level the tastes of the market would be satisfied. For me its about making films that challenge people, to think of film not as something that audiences could just be comfortable with. It is what drives me as a filmmaker and more films that do this need to be made. Eventually, if there were not films that did not care or focus on the market and their demands as much, better films would be made. (laughs again). It’s no longer a concern for me.

And with this film, it is about everyone’s inner child in its own way. It started when I was 10 with the comics.  It was like an inner treasure within me. What was interesting was I was interested and passionate but I never thought about making a film on it. It was not until the Fifth Element that I really considered it. Before that, it was just about my childhood but then at the time it was not possible to make the films at all. The technology was not good at the time, so I put it on the side. But then of course the time became right. And I guess with audience’s, I can never tell what they like. They’re so different, be it a young girl watching it from London to a middle aged man somewhere else. When you have this kind of film, it is for everyone. I don’t know what they will take from the film. What I try to do, my only job is to try for the best and to offer everything I have and give.

Working on such a large scale project, which did take a long time, what did you find was some of the hardest aspects to face?

(laughs). It was a long process. Pre-production took a long time – its tiring for sure. At the end of it, you just get exhausted and always want to take a step back after it. But it was fun and there was a joy to every single aspect of the film.  I live for it and I don’t like not finishing what I have started.

The first part of the process was the script and what I wanted to say. I spent a lot of time on this bit.  After that you can think about how to dress it up in a way. I care about this and staying true to it. So then I bring in lots of artists around the world – a big team of 10-12 guys for almost 3 years. They bring their own sensitivity into it and they draw (for conceptualizing the film). These are thousands of drawings and then I organise it. I love this tone of ideas that comes in and I integrate in the script. Same with costumes and makeup. I love spending months on the details and the look, though storytelling is definitely the focus. Also I had a great set of actors so that helped the entire process.

On that note, how was it working with Dane and Cara and getting them to fit these characters that you grew up with?

It was a pleasure from the first day to the end. They are easy-going and so professional. What is interesting with Dane, its not as if he is a superhero, he’s pretentious, he’s lying a little bit. But he knows how to be heroic and makes it very human. Also, I am lucky because I do not come with it from the “marketing” point of view. I always try to take the best actor for the part. That’s it. If he’s very well known and popular that is great but if he is not, well too bad. As long as he is good for the part, the best for the part.

Dane and Cara were good because they are 25 years old and so fresh and young. It reminds me when I was young watching younger actors on screen. I want to have the same feeling.

Well thank you so much for the interview, it was pleasure meeting you!

Thank you. I hope to see your films one day on screen.

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