To many people in France, the name "Belphégor" represents one of the best and most famous novels in the horror fiction genre. Written by Arthur Bernède, "Belphégor" was an intriguing story, mix of horror, suspense and mystery, where a detective attempted to unveil the mystery behind a ghostly presence that haunted the Louvre Museum. Bernède was a man fascinated by cinema, so many of his novels were devised to be adapted to screen as soon as possible. Naturally, "Belphégor" became a silent film in 1927, however, the story reached cult status in 1965 when Bernède's novel became the basis for one of the most popular French TV series of the 60s. To many people in France, "Belphégor" is truly a revered tale of horror and mystery, but sadly, this new incarnation of Bernède's novel ends up as an average entry in French cinema.
"Belphégor - Le Fantôme Du Louvre", begins as an old collection of Egyptian artifacts is found in the vaults of the Museum during the works of restoration. Strangely, the artifacts are not cataloged, so they start to be checked by the Museum's team of Egyptologists. As the main Mummy of the discovery is checked, its spirit awakes, and escapes through the museum's electrical system, becoming a haunting presence in the Museum. At the same time, Lisa (Sophie Marceau), a woman who lives across the street, enters accidentally inside the Museum as the restoration work makes a hole in her basement. Soon she finds herself possessed by the free spirit of Belphégor, who now will use her body for his own evil purposes.
The movie was written by a very talented team of writers (Danièle Thompson, Jérôme Tonnerre and director Jean-Paul Salomé himself), however, the final result is really disappointing considering the talents of those involved in it. "Belphégor - Le Fantôme Du Louvre" moves seriously away from Bernède's novel with the inclusion of a heavier focus in the supernatural elements, and a considerable lack in the mystery and suspense of the story (basically the elements that made the TV series popular). It's not difficult to understand why the French fans got angry as the film has little to no resemblance to the story's earlier incarnations, and seems to had used Bernède's novel only as a blueprint for a typical blockbuster action film.
Director Jean-Paul Salomé confirms this intention by making this movie an action-adventure film with an obvious Hollywood style. Salomé makes the bold decision of attempting what director Stephen Sommers did with "The Mummy" (transforming a classic horror film into an action film), but sadly he fails, leaving "Belphégor" unfocused and almost without a trace of its original incarnation. Despite this huge problem, Salomé shows an effective and technically good direction, and at times his use of the camera and the work with his actors really make the film work. His follow-up to "Belphégor", a new version of the adventures of Maurice Leblanc's character "Arsène Lupin", is a better demonstration of Salomé's talents as an action film director.
The film's saving grace is definitely the talented cast of the movie, as the group of actors really try to do their best job despite the script's many problems, making the film at least enjoyable. The beautiful Sophie Marceau leads the cast as Lisa, still delivering a good performance as always. Fréderic Diefenthal is her love interest, Martin, a young man decided to save Lisa from Belphégor's possession. Diefenthal is effective, and makes a good counterpart to Marceau, but the real treasures are Julie Christie and Michel Serrault, who in their supporting roles steal every scene they are in, and prove their great talent for the subtle comedy their two characters domain. It's a joy to see the two experienced actors giving their best despite the film's obvious problems.
As written above, the script is the movie's biggest problem, not because it deviates from the source novel (that's hardly a sin), but because the approach the story takes seem unfocused and without direction, almost as if the writers weren't sure if to make the movie a mystery film or an action-adventure one. Clearly the purpose was to modernize an old favorite by making it attractive to the younger crowd, but it seems that in the process the writers lost the essence of Bernède's novel delivering a void soulless product. Hoever, this is not to say that the film is awful, the problem is that it just doesn't attempt to be something better, ending with just an average adventure film missing the enormous potential of the story.
While this is not exactly an example of the best Modern French dark fantasy films (Pitof's "Vidocq" or Salomé's own "Arsène Lupin" are better), it's by no means a bad movie. However, I would only recommend it to die hard fans of the genre, or to fans of the actors involved, as this is simply, another mediocre and typical entry in the action-adventure genre. 5/10
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