Byline: Merle Ginsberg

The PR man from Columbia Pictures is getting nervous. Luc Besson, the visiting French film director, has just crawled out a window and onto a narrow ledge of the Thalberg building on the lot in Culver City, Calif. He spotted an odd light out there, and he and the photographer couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shoot in it.
To where else would the enfant terrible director of “La Femme Nikita” gravitate but the edge? His new movie, “The Professional,” set in New York, is about the love of a brutal but lonely hit man (France’s Jean Reno) for a little girl (New Yorker Natalie Portman) whose entire family gets wiped out by a drug-crazed DEA man (Britain’s Gary Oldman). The film is extreme but not, Besson claims, violent or perverse.
“The violence is to show more the innocence and the purity of the two characters,” Besson insists. “If you want to show the purity of the love they feel for each other, you need a comparison. If Leon and Mathilde just come from anywhere, with no obstacles, it doesn’t mean the same thing. Besides, there are only two scenes that are really violent.”
Even though there are no sex scenes between the 13-year-old Portman and Reno, there are people who find this bizarre love story, well, a little perverted. And this makes Besson a little nutty.
“The people who think that are perverts,” he says defensively. “Nothing is perverse in the movie, nothing. She is very pure, she loves the guy — nothing is sexual. It’s on the frontier between friendship and love, and that disturbs people. For me, it’s not perverse at all.” It isn’t easy to cast the much-in-demand Oldman, whose contortions for the camera when he pops the street drug “ice” are more memorable than his licking the knife in “Dracula” — but on the press notes for “The Professional,” Oldman says Besson is his favorite director.
“I think what he loves is the freedom,” Besson says. “Gary is the kind of guy who doesn’t care so much about the result at the end of a movie. His work is on the set.”
While “The Professional” does have its share of humor, Besson acts as if he doesn’t understand the question when asked if he will ever make a totally “light” movie.
“Light?” he asks. “What is light? No sugar? Not fat? Sounds too American!”

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