I was sorting through my movie collection over the weekend (it hadn't been organized in months; it was quite a mess), and ran across an old favorite, The Professional. This was the first Besson movie I ever saw, and it made quite an impression.
It was, by turns, lyrical, playful, and serious, and yet it was all about a hitman. Portman and Reno gave fantastic performances, as a girl finding herself an orphan and as the hitman. Reno's last line, "This is... for... Matilda", especially with its concommitant punctuation mark should be a classic.
What got me thinking about it was finding my japanese laserdisc of Leon - Version Integral, which had 23 minutes of additional footage. The added footage was mostly (all? I'm not sure) of Leon training Matilda, and made her claim at the end, "I can clean!" much more believable.
But I really wanted to talk more about Besson, in general. As I said, The Professional was my first exposure to his work. When I saw The Fifth Element, I was hooked. As a friend of mine pointed out, that was about as close as you could get to a comic book in live-action. Well, I guess with current improvements to CGI, that might not be quite so true anymore, but it certainly had the same élan. And it was certainly closer than anything done previously. It was not without its flaws, but it is hard to beat for sheer artistry, especially visually.
I next watched La Femme Nikita (the original french movie; my exposure to the TV show was limited to a couple of fragments of a few episodes. And even that was only because a friend liked it very much). This one was in a very different style from Element, though with definite similarities to Professional. I think I need to watch it again, though, as I don't remember a whole lot, outside of her first mission.
I bought The Messenger (like Element, featuring Jovovich), but haven't watched that one at all, yet. It's been sitting for a long time.
More recently, I've seen several others that he only (co)wrote. This includes the largely unknown, but excellent Wasabi (also very comic-book-ish, and bringing back Reno), the solid Transporter 1&2, and the fairly laughable Transporter 3. Sequel-itis had set in on that latter, I suppose.
I'm now looking back to see what I've missed; Angel-A rings a bell. I think I tried to find it a couple of years ago, but it wasn't available at the time, maybe? Hmm... maybe it was not yet out. In any event, I will need to correct that omission. And I should probably try to dig up a few more of his french releases, I suppose.
I suppose all of this spewage hasn't really led to why I like Besson so much. And honestly, I'm not sure what it is about most of his movies. Maybe it's just that they're so far over the top. (Nikita is probably the least so, of the ones I've mentioned; Element and Wasabi are certainly the most. Leon had some very poignant and serious moments, but also went pretty far over in a few places.)
So, I guess, if understated is not your thing, it's hard to go wrong with Besson.