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LUC BESSON was born in Paris on March 18, 1959, and spent most of his childhood living in the idyllic settings of various Mediterranean hideaways where his parents worked as diving instructors.

With Besson's surroundings and family influences, it seemed assured that he would embark on a similar maritime career. From the age of 10, after an encounter with a friendly dolphin, Besson was determined to become a maritime biologist, specializing in the study of the species.

Besson studied for this life plan throughout his teens until, at 17, a diving accident prevented him from ever diving again. His long-held dream cut short, Besson redirected his sights, deciding that he would become a filmmaker.

Besson dropped out of school to seek work in the French film industry, and started making his own experimental films in super-8. At the age of 19, he moved to Los Angeles, where he lived for three months working in the American film industry.

In 1983, after three years of experience as an assistant director, Besson made his first feature, Le Dernier Combat. Selected for competition in the Avoriaz Science Fiction Film Festival, the film won two major awards from the festival jury, which included Alan J. Pakula and Jean-Jacques Annaud among its members. It was nominated for a Cesar Award and went on to win 12 awards around the world.

Besson's second film, Subway, starred Christopher Lambert in a Cesar-winning performance (one of 13 Cesar nominations garnered by the film), as a thief on the run who becomes involved with a fantastic subculture of Parisians living in the city's underground. The film gained Besson an international reputation, and is today regarded worldwide as a cult classic.

Besson's 1988 film The Big Blue, expressing the dreams of Besson's Mediterranean youth, cast Jean Reno as an Italian diver with an unquenchable love for the sea. Besson's first film to be made in English, boasting an international cast, was distributed in the U.S. in a version that suffered various unauthorized alterations to its scenes—including a changed ending—and to Eric Serra's score. The intact version of Besson's film, nominated for seven Cesars, was a huge success throughout most of the world and is one of the top five films in French history.

Besson's La Femme Nikita was the director's first global sensation, a film that inspired remakes in both the U.S. and Hong Kong. The story of a feral, drug-addicted girl forced to train as a government hit-woman made international stars of leads Anne Parrilaud and Jean Reno, and spawned a new form of thriller—the neo-noir action film. This influence still reverberates throughout world cinema.

In 1991, Besson's Atlantis, hailed by U.S. critics as an undersea Fantasia and an aquatic dream, was filmed in 16 months all around the world. An exercise in pure film imagery, Atlantis dispensed with dialogue and narrative in order to wed Eric Serra's wall-to-wall score to undersea images, a cinematic translation of the filmmaker's own love for the world hidden beneath the ocean.

In 1993, Besson began pre-production on The Fifth Element, working for over a year refining the script from his own story and—with an international team of artists— visualizing its 23rd centui-v setting and characters. When budget concerns put the project at a standstill, Besson turned his hand to another original screenplay, The Professional.

The Professional
returned to the themes examined in La Femme Nikita. It starred Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in the story of a hit man who is civilized by his paternal love for a young girl orphaned by a renegade government agent, played by Gary Oldman. The picture was an immediate worldwide success and garnered Cesar nominations for Best Picture and for Besson as Best Director.


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