Léon: Version Intégrale (1994/1996)

2008 #42
Luc Besson | 127 mins | DVD | 15*

Léon: Version IntégraleI first saw Léon about 10 years ago, back when video was still an acceptable way of watching things. A friend leant it to me, insisting it was a film I absolutely had to see, and he wasn’t wrong. It’s remained one of my favourite films ever since, though typically I haven’t watched it more than once or twice in the intervening decade. (It also fostered a love for Sting’s closing song, Shape of My Heart, which is criminally missing from a Greatest Hits CD my dad owned (even though his dire song from Demolition Man is on there), and in moderately recent years was indifferently reused by both Sugababes and Craig David.)

I became aware of this extended cut a few years ago, a little while before it was released on R1 DVD. Having held out for a UK R2 release for about half a decade now, I gave in and bought the (apparently superior, and also in a Steelbook, which always has a way of persuading me) German R2. It’s labelled as a “Director’s Cut” but, as Besson states in the relatively lengthy booklet (translated with the aid of [the now defunct] Babel Fish), “the second version is neither better nor worse than the original” — it’s not a preferred cut, just a different, extended one.

But personally, I prefer this version. Not because there’s anything wrong with the original — far from it — but because this one has more. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing of course, but I don’t think that’s happened here. The additions build on the characters and relationships, primarily between the two leads, and also add extra doses of humour and action. Besson wasn’t necessarily wrong to remove these things from his original cut — the extent of Léon and Mathilda’s relationship is especially controversial for some, and the extended scenes of Léon training Mathilda as a Cleaner are arguably extraneous — but they all add to the experience. Wisely, he doesn’t seem to have touched what was already there. Everything that was great about the original — from the astounding performances of Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman, to the thrilling action sequences, and plenty else in between — remains intact. They’ve not been buggered about with, just expanded around.

Ultimately, the reason I prefer this version is quite simple: I love the film and the characters, I could happily take more of them, and I very much enjoyed all of the added material. I can understand objections to the insinuations about Léon and Mathilda’s relationship, but I didn’t find it any creepier here than it was before (besides which, any paedophilic notions come from her and he quashes them). The quality of the performances in the new scenes, plus other solid additions, make all the new bits worthwhile.

The version intégrale isn’t too much of a good thing, then, just more of a great thing. To my mind, Léon (in either cut) is unquestionably essential.

5 out of 5

* The original cut of Léon was last classified in 1996 and given an 18. The longer version was classified in 2009 and received a 15. That must be a pretty rare case of a longer version (technically) having a lower certificate. ^

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