Jean-Jacques Beineix obituary | Movie

No arthouse cinema repertoire program in the 1980s was complete without regular screenings of the clever French thriller Diva (1981). The plot combined opera, murder and corruption, while the visual style had the kind of pizzazz that were more easily associated with commercials or pop videos. At the end of the same decade, the prospect of a student bed that did not have the poster for the erotic love story Betty Blue (1986) on the walls was as unthinkable as one without Pot Nudle and patchouli oil. Both films were directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix, who died at the age of 75 after a long illness.

Diva worries Jules (Frédéric Andréi), a postal worker who makes an illegal bootleg tape of an American opera singer (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez) famously for refusing to let her voice be recorded. This cassette is mixed with one containing testimony accusing a senior police officer, and soon Jules is being chased by both officers and thugs.

Fernandez originally rejected the manuscript that Beineix had adapted with Jean Van Hamme from the novel by Daniel Odier, who published it under the pseudonym Delacorta. “I read murder, prostitution and drugs, and I did not want anything to do with it,” she said in 1983. “Jean-Jacques forced me to read it with him. Then I realized it was actually easy, as a Disney treatment of a Hitchcock movie. ” She was relatively unknown at the time, and the singer’s profile was boosted by her performance, which included a rendition of the aria Ebben? Ne andrò lontana from the opera La Wally.

Diva heralded the arrival of a flashy way of making movies, later called “cinéma du look”. However, the reaction to the film from French critics was hostile. “I thought I had made two films for the price of one,” the director said in 2009. “My first and my last.”

Béatrice Dalles performance is the highlight of the erotic love story Betty Blue, 1986, the third film by Jean-Jacques Beineix.
Béatrice Dalles performance is the highlight of the erotic love story Betty Blue, 1986, the third film by Jean-Jacques Beineix. Photo: Moviestore / Rex / Shutterstock

His producers were reluctant to send Diva to the Toronto Film Festival as they feared that international exposure would further damage the film’s reputation. “What damage can we do to this image?” asked Beineix. “We are already dead!” When he got off the plane in Toronto, he went straight to the cinema, where he found a standing ovation along the way. “I thought, ‘There’s something wrong. I’m in another dimension.'”

The film was praised by international critics. David Denby of New York magazine praised its “enthusiastic pop beauty” and compared Beineix to Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma. Diva, still playing in Paris after a year, won four César awards, including the award for best first film.

The Moon in the Gutter (1983) was a textbook case about the recession in second grade. Edited by the director and Olivier Mergault from the pulp novel by David Goodis, whose work had previously been filmed by François Truffaut and Sam Fuller, it was a magnificent affair that prioritized smooth, postmodern artistry over actors (including Gérard Depardieu and Nastassja Kinski) and created only the weakest connection with the audience.

The poster for Jean-Jaques Beineix's Betty Blue.
The poster for Jean-Jaques Beineix’s Betty Blue. Photo: Movie Stills / Alamy

Critics scoffed, including Pauline Kael, who had found her debut “really sparkling” but now declared its follow-up “unbearably silly.” After the response to Diva, which Beineix called a “wonderful dream in which I flew on the wings of victory,” he experienced a sudden fall. “Bang, bang, bang: I’m shot down. It was very scary. “

He got along with Betty Blue, whom he adapted from Philippe Dijan’s novel 37 ° 2 le matin, about Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade), a house painter and aspiring novelist, and his passionate, fleeting girlfriend. The gifted 21-year-old newcomer Béatrice Dalle beat Isabelle Adjani to the title role.

This tale of amour fou opens with an extended sex scene filmed in one shot and begins in widescreen before gradually moving closer to the lovers. In the script, the scene had taken place 10 minutes inside the film, but Beineix changed his mind in the editing room. “I realized: That’s the basis of everything.” He considered it “a political statement”, but Dalle complained that he had not insisted on a closed set during her nude scenes. “I still have a grudge against Beineix about it,” she said in 2013. “[The crew] everyone stayed there as if they were on the set of an X-rated movie. Shocking. Terrible.”

Her untamed performance is the highlight of a film that also boasts luminous cinematography by Jean-François Robin. It was he who steered the color scheme away from the chilled blues of Diva and The Moon in the Gutter by pointing out that this was “a sun and sweat story” that could benefit from looking like “Kodachrome slides occupied by amateurs. Holiday pictures, warm and sunny. “

The film takes a rather ugly turn – Zorg’s literary prospects only improve when Betty is in a psychiatric institution, where he finally strangles her with a pillow. However, it had enough admirers to achieve Oscar, Bafta and Golden Globe nominations for best foreign-language film, and to justify the release five years later of a director’s clip that extended the playing time from two hours to three.

Frédéric Andréi in Jean-Jacques Beineix's Diva, 1981. The film heralded the arrival of a flashy way of making films, later called 'cinéma du look'.
Frédéric Andréi in Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva, 1981. The film heralded the arrival of a flashy way of making films, later called ‘cinéma du look’. Photo: Christophel / Alamy Collection

Beineix was born in Paris, the son of Madeline (nee Maréchal) and Robert Beineix, an insurance salesman. He was educated at the Lycée Carnot and the Lycée Condorcet, both in Paris. He studied medicine and then stopped to become an assistant director for filmmakers such as Jean Becker, Claude Berri and Claude Zidi. He was the second assistant director on Jerry Lewis’ controversial drama The Day the Clown Cried (1972), in which Lewis plays an entertainer who leads Jewish children to the Nazi gas chambers; it has never been published, and Lewis prescribed that it can not be shown until 2024. Beineix’s only directorial credit before Diva was the short Le Chien de Monsieur Michel (1977).

In the wake of his success with Diva, he was courted by American studios. “In the beginning, Hollywood saw me as a kind of exotic puppet,” he said. A vampire comedy he wrote for Paramount was never made, a contract with producer Edward R Pressman came to naught, and he declined an offer to work as a tenant. “The privilege of being a French instructor is that you are basically free to do whatever you want. The disaster is that you do not understand that the rest of the world does not work that way. “

After Betty Blue, interest in his films began to wane outside of France. Roselyne and the Lions (1989) was a meandering love story about a couple of circus workers. The quirky IP5 (1992) featured Yves Montand’s latest performance. Beineix moved into documentaries, among them Locked-In Syndrome (1997), which told the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who had a stroke that left him unable to communicate except by blinking at one eyelids. Beineix declined the invitation to make the dramatized version, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was directed in 2007 by Julian Schnabel.

His last fictional film was Mortal Transfer (2001), a macabre farce starring Anglade as a psychoanalyst to dispose of a patient’s body; Beineix plowed $ 2 million of its own money into the project. In 2004, he co-wrote the vampire-themed graphic novel L’Affaire Du Siècle; another section arrived in 2006 along with his first volume of memoirs, Les Chantiers de la Gloire, which ran to 835 pages. A novel, Toboggan, was published in 2020.

Beineix described himself in 2006 as “arrogant, a provocateur. I have to be a little bit in love with failure because I provoke it. It happens that when you are afraid of being loved, you inspire hostility. It’s perverse. “

He leaves behind his wife, Agnès, and daughter, Frida.

Jean-Jacques Beineix, film director, born October 8, 1946; died January 13, 2022

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