Nationality: French. Born: Paris, France, 8 October, 1946. Education: Studied medicine. Career: Gave up medical studies in 1970 to work as assistant director; after Diva, worked as director of TV
commercials; defended European filmmakers at the GATT negotiations, 1993. Awards: César Award for Best New Director of a Feature Film for Diva (1982); Seattle International Film Festival Golden Space Needle Award for Best Director for 37°2 le Matin (1986) and IP5: L'île aux pachydermes (1992). Address: c/o French Film Office, 745 Fifth Avenue, New York, USA.
Films as Director:
Diva (+ sc)
La Lune dans le caniveau (The Moon in the Gutter) (+ sc)
37°2 le matin (37.2 Degrees in the Morning; Betty Blue) (+ sc, pr)
Roselyne et les lions (+sc)
IP5: L'île aux pachydermes (IP5: The Island of Pachyderms) (+ sc, pr)
Otaku (+ pr)
Mortel Tranfert (+ sc)
Films as Assistant Director:
Le Bateau sur l'herbe (The Boat on the Grass)
The Day the Clown Cried (unreleased); Une journée bienremplie (Full Day's Work); La Course du lièvre à traversles champs (And Hope to Die)
Par le sang des autres (By the Blood of Others); Défense desavoir (Forbidden to Know)
Le male du siècle (Male of the Century); Course à l'échalote (Wild Goose Chase)
L'Aile ou la cuisse
L'Animal (The Animal; Stuntwoman)
Cannes. . . les 400 coups (role as himself)
By BEINEIX: articles—
Interview with Michael Church, "Hip-hop along the Road to Paradise," in The Observer Review (London), 14 November 1993.
On BEINEIX: books—
Parent, Denis, Jean-Jacques Beineix: Version Originale, Paris, 1989.
Forbes, Jill, The Cinema in France after the New Wave, London, 1992.
Austin, Guy, Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction, Manchester, 1996.
On BEINEIX: articles-
Gans, Christophe, "Diva, dix ans aprés. . . ," in L'Avant ScéneCinéma, no. 407, 1991.
Russell, David, "Two or Three Things We Know about Beineix," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1989/90.
* * *
After a long apprenticeship as assistant to directors as diverse as Jerry Lewis, on the unreleased The Day the Clown Cried, and Claude Berri on Le male du siècle, Jean-Jacques Beineix emerged as a director in his own right with the intelligent thriller, Diva. Beineix's talents also extend to screenwriting and producing, and in the 1980s, along with directors Luc Besson and Leos Carax, he helped establish a category of French films sometimes known as "Cinema du Look." Defined by its slogan "the image is the message," the Cinema du Look consists of films in which appearances are more important than reality, and in which style is more important than plot or content.
Sometimes considered to be the inaugural film of this new style, Beineix's first solo project is one of the most influential French films of the 1980s. Diva self-consciously addresses what have become known as postmodern themes: it is full of images of reflective glass buildings, and its plot centres on the relative value of recorded music and information. The diva of the film's title is an American opera star who refuses to be recorded but finds that this only increases the value of bootleg recordings of her performances. It is when one of these bootleg tapes is confused with a tape that incriminates a politician that the plot takes off. As Jill Forbes points out, however, the central figure of the drama is not the diva herself, but the mail courier who makes the bootleg recording. The film's point, argues Forbes, is that the circulation of information is more important than production.
The glossy style of the "Cinema du Look" transferred easily to TV advertising, and Beineix became involved in making commercials after the success of Diva. Like TV commercials, which he has claimed "capture youth," his films tend to employ intense colours and lighting effects, as well as stylized or strange locations. It is thought, for example, that most of the 7.5 million Franc budget for Diva went on sound and vision rather than high-profile actors.
His next film, La Lune dans le caniveau, is, if anything, still more a triumph of style over substance than Diva. It tells the story of a stevedore who searches the docks for his sister's rapist, and raises more questions than it answers. La Lune dans le caniveau is far less convincing than the director's debut, and confirmed, for French critics at least, that Beineix had been polluted as a filmmaker by his contact with the advertising industry.
More successful is 37°2 le matin, which tells the story of a doomed love affair between a disturbed young woman, Betty (Beatrice Dalle), and an aspiring writer. Their turbulent relationship makes for a bleak film, but it is attractively directed and photographed and has achieved cult status and some notoriety for the explicit sex scene with which it begins. Perhaps as a result of Beineix's involvement in advertising, 37°2 le matin is structured in short set pieces that are separate episodes in themselves. As if to emphasise this connection, one such scene from 37°2 le matin, where Betty angrily throws her lover's possessions over the balcony of their house, has been remade and used in Europe to advertise a small Japanese car.
Despite his influence on the direction of French cinema since the 1980s, Beineix's later films have failed to live up to the early promise of Diva and 37°2 le matin. Unlike his contemporary, Luc Besson, Beineix could be said to have stuck closely to the spirit of "Cinema du Look," but he seems also to have gone on ignoring its limitations. His most recent feature film, IP5: L'île aux pachyderms, is a pensive, good-looking road movie, but in the end it will be remembered for the way its male lead, Yves Montand, died from a heart-attack on the last day of filming, just as his character does in the film. The controversy centered on the way Beineix had made the ageing star spend the whole day immersed in a freezing lake, but the French public was also scandalized that so iconic an actor should end his days working on a Beineix project.
Beineix works hard to protect his privacy, and few details of his life outside filmmaking are available. In a sense this parallels the aims of "Cinema du Look": Beineix allows his images to speak for themselves. Some insight into his working methods may be gleaned from Denis Parent's Jean-Jacques Beineix: Version Originale, available only in French, which is the journalist's diary of the making of Rosalyne et les Lions.