Luc Besson was born in Paris in 1959. He grew up on the Mediterranean coast, in Greece and Yugoslavia, and through his parents, who gave diving lessons, he developed an intense love of the sea and marine life. His dreams of becoming a marine biologist were shattered when he had a diving accident at the age of 17. Having returned to Paris to finish his studies, he developed an interest in cinema and film making, founding his own film-making company Films du loup (which later became Films du Dauphin and then Leeloo Productions).
After his military service, Besson travelled to Hollywood at the age of 19, where he worked as a studio hand. By the time he returned to France, the following year, he was determined to become a film maker. He worked as an assistant on a number of films, working with such directors as Patrick Grandperret, Claude Faraldo, Maurice Pialat and Régis Wargnier.
Besson was 20 when he made his first film in 1980, a short film in black and white entitled Líavant-dernier. This first film, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama, won a number of prizes and, encouraged, Besson re-made it as his first long film, Le dernier combat. This film won Besson a brace of prizes, including two prizes at the Avoriaz science fiction film festival in 1983.
Bessonís next film was Subway, an atmospheric black comedy set in the Paris Metro and populated, as in many of Bessonís subsequent films, by social outcasts. This was to be the first in a series of major box office successes, and the film won an astonishing 13 César nominations.
Even greater success followed with Besson's next film in 1988, The Big Blue. With this film, Besson was able to revisit his happy childhood and draw on his passion for the sea. The film, his first to be made in English, has an astonishing commercial success in Europe (in fact, it was the highest grossing film in France at the time, attracting nine million spectators). It won four Césars and was praised by the critics. However, clumsy editing (involving removing one hour of film and a drastic change to the ending) resulted in the film having no impact in the United States.
1990 saw the release of Nikita, the first in a series of highly popular action films which would achieve cult status. These are the films with which Besson is probably most associated today. Nikita starred his then wife Anne Parillaud playing a drug-addict social drop out who is trained to become a lethal secret agent. The film was so successful that it inspired an American re-make starring Jane Fonda and a television series (neither of which had the power and style of Bessonís original film).
In 1991, Luc Besson returned to his love of the sea with Atlantis, a film that had similarities to The Big Blue, and included some astounding marine photography.
Next, in 1994, came Bessonís most contentious film to date, Léon, also known as The Professional. The film is about a young girl who forms a friendship with a professional hitman so that she can avenge the death of her family, ruthlessly killed by drugs traffickers. With some fast-moving, adrenaline-pumping action scenes, the film established Besson as Franceís most capable director of the action movie genre. However, the graphic images of carnage and, worse, the undercurrent of paedophilia, made it easy pickings for the censors and critics alike.
Besson had a far easier ride with the censors for his next film, The Fifth Element, a lavish, tongue-in-cheek science fiction extravaganza based on a story he wrote when he was a teenager. Although the critics were divided, the film was enormously popular and quickly acquired a world-wide cult following. Besson won a Cesar in 1998 (the best director award) for this film. Through The Fifth Element, Besson met Milla Jovovich, whom he would marry (although the marriage soon ended in divorce) and cast for the leading role in his next film, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.
This film was the latest in a long line of doomed film adaptations of the story of the French heroine Joan of Arc. Luc Besson was no more successful than his predecessors. Panned by the critics and shunned by cinema-goers, the film was Bessonís first commercial failure, although it contains some impressive production values (most notably some stunning recreations of the battle scenes).
Although Luc Besson is most visible for his work as a director, he is also pursuing a successful career as a producer. His productions include Gérard Pirèsís 1997 box office hit, Taxi, and the 1997 film Nil by Mouth, directed by his close friend Gary Oldman.
Luc Bessonís output as a film director has not been enormous but his influence and presence on world cinema has been phenomenal. Loyally served by his favourite actors, including Jean Reno, Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman and Milla Jovovich, he has created some major works of cinema, distinguished by a strong visual style and an astounding creative flair. Alternating between a childish sense of fun and a voyeuristic relish of danger, his films are simultaneously shocking and intensely compelling.
[from Le petit mond des Films Francais, http://members.netscapeonline.co.uk/jameswtravers/
Stylish young filmmaking talent who made an impressive debut at age 24 with "Le Dernier Combat" (1983), an apocalyptic drama noted for its striking black-and-white photography and bold lack of dialogue. Besson's subsequent films have been French box-office hits, more popular for their exhilarating visuals than for their fantasy-adventure storylines. He first gained recognition for the underwater epic "The Big Blue" (1988), a huge commercial success at home but a failure in foreign release. Besson's next project brought international attention--the aggressively violent and wildly improbable "La Femme Nikita" (1990). An entertaining story of a hedonistic young woman who becomes an undercover assassin for the French government, the film did so well in the states that it spurred a Hollywood remake. With his first Hollywood film, "The Professional" (1994), about the blossoming relationship between a hitman and an orphan, Besson was again lauded for skillful direction and stylish action sequences though still hampered by less than satisfactory story development.
Luc Besson spent the first years of his life following his parents, scuba diving instructors, around the world. His early life was entirely aquatic. He already showed amazing creativity as a youth, writing early drafts of Grand bleu, Le (1988) and Fifth Element, The (1997), as an adolescent bored in school. He planned on becoming a marine biologist specializing in dolphins until a diving accident at age 17 which rendered him unable to dive any longer. He moved back to Paris, where he was born, and only at age 18 did he first have an urban life or television. He realized that film was a medium which he could combine all his interests in various arts together, so he began taking odd jobs on various films. He moved to America for three years, then returned to France and formed Les Films de Loups - his own production company, which later changed its name to Les Films de Dauphins. He is now able to dive again.
[from The Internet Movie Database]
NOTE: Besson won the Silver Ribbon for Best Director from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists for Nikita.