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Interview with Jean-Jacques Beineix
To say Jean-Jacques Beineix is subdued would not be strictly accurate. It would be like calling a tortoise "frisky" or the Potsdamer Platz "quaint." But the man who changed the face of French cinema with Diva and Betty Blue is certainly less ebullient than he was last time Nick Roddick met him, about five years ago, at a symposium in Dublin.
Then, I asked him (among other things) why he had decided to bring out
a director's cut of Betty Blue.
The intervening years have been difficult for Beineix and his English has become, if anything, more idiosyncratic, despite extended periods spent in the US. He has done some painting, directed five documentaries and produced a further three. And he was a militant on behalf of French producers, the latest foot-soldier in the battle against the globalisation of the movie industry. Then he quit. Why?
"My 'ead," says Beineix bluntly.
"You mean, you couldn't stop it?" I ask.
"No, you don't do things just to stop them," he says. "You just apply the principles -- the principles of liberty, the largest single principle in a democracy. And it seems to me that the same democracies that are fighting to liberate some third -- world democracies from fascism, are building bureaucracies and commercial forces that have no other interest than to make standard products.
"That's the way the world is. The principle remains. It's just that I feel a little bit " He produces the Gallic shrug to end all Gallic shrugs, his shoulders round his ears, his hands turned upwards, then ends it off with a pixie-like grin. With Beineix, a combative stance and a degree of self-mockery go hand in hand, just as violence and humour are always combined in his films.
"We are living in an era of combinations -- combinations of everything.
The world becomes a global artwork. So, in behaving this way, in treating
my material this year, I think that I contribute to showing the world
the way it is."
It features a psychotherapist, played by Beineix's fetish actor, Jean-Hugues Anglade ("He is wonderful. He is not afraid of anything") as a mixture of Gregory Peck in Spellbound and Buster Keaton. It contains wicked rich people, kinky sex, necrophilia, a sardonic cop and a getting-rid-of-the-body sequence that makes Shallow Grave seem positively restrained. There is, in other words, nothing of the documentary about it.
"In documentaries, the dramaturgy is fulfilled and produced by reality," Beineix suggests. "In fiction, you have the right to alter, to modify, to transform reality into something else, to give it the shape and form you want to give it. This is a very old debate in art history. A lot of people want art to serve the cause of reality. That was the basement of the nouvelle vague. But I think that some artists want to show things with their own eyes. I have never, ever made one picture which is realistic. It is always something else -- bigger, more baroque."
Mortel transfert reaches Berlin preceded by a tidal wave of bad word-of-mouth from France, much of it viciously personal. The French critical establishment has never much liked Beineix, and Beineix has returned the compliment. "It's been like this for 20 years," he says. "I'm going to write a book about it - I've been asked by a publisher. I am really considering going away from this fucking country. Before the movie opened, I said, 'The season of Beineix is open', like the season of, you know, 'Boum, boum'." He mimes firing a rifle. "But they have no 'umour."
Beineix put $2 million of his own money into Mortel transfert, "so if it fails I will be bankrupted! Ha ha! I will be cut from the mainstream business, so I will have to do marginal pictures. That will be a result of my behavior. But I won't change my feeling about them. I am a maverick and I will remain that. And critics will remain the way they are. It is a class struggle."