A French Director's Topsy-turvy Career

Posted: February 11, 1987

NEW YORK — Movie director Jean-Jacques Beineix is on the phone to Paris, cursing and yelling something fierce.

"C'est stupide," "incroyable," "absurde," "horrible" and the all- purpose "les idiots" flavor his conversation like garlic in a Provencal stew. While he protests, his right hand is going through maestro-like maneuvers, as if, perhaps, the urgency of his gestures might make his transatlantic argument more persuasive. After a good 15 minutes of frantic Gallic ranting, Beineix slams down the phone, raises both arms toward Manhattan's cold heavens and sighs in earnestness: "Oh zee Frahnch! Zay are empossible! Idiots! You keenot emagine how deeficult it is to do beezness wis zem."

These are the same French idiots, mind you, who have selected Beineix's third and latest movie, Betty Blue, as their country's official entry in the Academy Award contest for best foreign-language film. (Whether it is among the films chosen for final balloting will be known when the nominations are announced today.) The same French idiots who financed his first film, the international hit Diva (1982) and co-financed his second, Moon in the Gutter (1983). The same French idiots who helped get Betty Blue nominated for nine Cesars, the French equivalent of the Oscars. But gratitude does not come easily from someone like Beineix.

Betty Blue, which opens at the Ritz Five today, depicts the mad passion between an aspiring writer and a young, highly volatile woman hellbent on his success and her destruction. Winner of the Montreal Film Festival's Grand Prix, the movie has made the beauteous Beatrice Dalle something of a sensation, partly because Betty Blue opens with seven uninterrupted minutes of lovemaking and partly because Dalle spends the majority of the picture in a state of complete or semi-undress. Dalle's new stardom is so great that her full-pout lips are being compared to Bardot's.

Beineix, dressed stylishly in a loose black-and-white suit, is a small, whippet-thin man with straight black hair that has a highly active life of its own. He is 40 but looks years younger and a lot like his youthful heroes - Frederic Andrei, who played Jules the postal carrier in Diva, and Jean- Hugues Anglade, who portrays the writer/house painter Zorg in Betty Blue.

Born into a comfortable family, Beineix studied philosophy and medicine before deciding to go into film. "By being a movie director instead of a doctor," he says, "I have never killed anyone - except, perhaps, by annoying them."

His family didn't mind his change in plans. "They had been very surprised that I wanted to be a doctor," Beineix says. "By the time they got used to the idea, I had decided to quit."

But his medical training has helped him with movies. "It taught me the technical, the scientific approach, which is to deal with the facts, to be precise, to be organized and not to cheat with yourself. Even if you have a great deal of sensitivity, use it only after you have all the proof, after you have set up all the elements. After you have that, let your sensitivity do the job."

Beineix trained for 12 years as an assistant director, first to Rene Clement (on The Deadly Trap and Black Friday) and Claude Berri (The Male of the Century). He also assisted Jerry Lewis on the The Day the Clown Died and Moshe Mizrahi on Madame Rosa.

"So you see," Beineix says later, over a lunch of salmon, "I was not the overnight sensation."

But Diva certainly made it seem that way. Although the film was not well- received in France, it was a huge hit internationally. He became the film world's darling. He could do no wrong. Everybody adored Jean-Jacques Beineix.

Then came Moon in the Gutter, a surrealistic vision of life on the waterfront shot entirely in Rome's Cinecitta studio. The critics - critics everywhere - disliked it; the audiences hardly bothered. "The film in the gutter," as co-star Gerard Depardieu put it. In Cannes, at the film's world premiere, Depardieu also put it directly to Beineix's fine-featured face, slugging him hard. The diminutive director, never one to reserve opinion, swung back. This is perhaps not the best way to launch a movie.

Now, with Betty Blue, he has again become a darling to many. The movie is a success in France, England, Canada, Sweden, Germany and New York. There are some dissenters, though. Says Beineix: "I hope you do not have the (Gene) Siskel and (Roger) Ebert in Philadelphia because they do not like my movie, not at all." But all in all, movie and director are doing fine.

"Yes, I feel like I went from being very loved to very much disliked to liked again. It is hard to go through what I went through with Moon in the Gutter, no? But I believe - I really do believe - that it will be judged a very good movie years from now. It was ahead of its time."

Despite their differing success at the box office, Diva and Moon in the Gutter shared a highly studied, dazzling visual style. (It comes as little surprise that Beineix adores Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, a movie of many images and few words, or that his favorite movie last year was Blue Velvet.) But Betty Blue is a much more natural movie, soaked in golden light, shot mostly on location on the Mediterranean coast and in France's interior. Beineix never once ventured inside a studio. "It was nice to get outdoors," he says, brushing back his troubled hair.

"Also, Betty Blue was the first time I was approaching the lives of human beings, of real people," says Beineix, who speaks as though he has never forgotten a single one of those philosophy courses. ". . . The other two movies were more operatic; they were more stagelike. There was more representation, more rock-and-roll."

In Betty Blue, Beineix set up all the pictures and operated the camera 90 percent of the time. He also played a large part in his other movies, setting up intricate camera shots.

Much of his cinematographic style, Beineix says, is "based on mood. Some things you must plan in advance, but often it is a question of mood or light or color. These things are given to you with the reality. But luck is nothing without opportunism. You can be lucky and not take advantage of the opportunities you have. It's just a matter of how skillful you are in grasping the chances you get. I must say that's the best quality I have. It may be my only quality."

Beineix is not married nor has he ever been. ("My life is so crazy, " he says, "it would be difficult.") Up until recently, Beineix did not even have a home. Well, he does have a 38-foot boat docked in the Riviera. "This is the most beautiful boat you have ever seen. A beautiful boat. I love this boat more than anything! More than any woman! But you know, I have a terrible problem, no?"

Yes?

"I get zeezick."

Again?

"I get zeezick. I love this boat so much, but it makes me feel so bad. It is a tragedy, no? But then life is like that."

Fortunately for Beineix's stomach, he has just purchased an enormous apartment near the Sorbonne. He also has plenty of work. He has made commercials for Guy Larouche cologne and Apple computers. "I have a lot of fun," Beineix says. "It's highly professional, highly technical, and it

keeps your techniques good. Also, they pay you a lot of money."

Madonna had wanted to work with Beineix on a video for her next album but, he says, "I couldn't make it. And I do very badly want to work with her. Perhaps some other time."

What Beineix wants to do most desperately of all is a movie based on Marc Behm's book Bats. (Beineix is fond of buying rights to books and then adapting them. All his movies were based on previously published books. Betty Blue is based on Philippe Djian's 372 Le Matin.)

"I absolutely must do this movie!" Beineix says, rising to his feet. "It is my dream! It is the story of two young vampires who must make a robbery on top of a skyscraper, and they need the help of a vampire of the medieval age to turn them into wolves and bats so they can make the robbery."

The movie would be his first big-budget studio project, and Beineix wants to make it in English, in Manhattan. "I must make it!" he says triumphantly. If not in the United States, he will go to England or Australia or finance it

himself

Beatrice Dalle continues to be a sensation. Jean-Hugues Anglade is negotiating to do a movie with Nastassja Kinski, co-star of Beineix's Moon in the Gutter. For now, though, their director has thoughts of going to Australia or Japan, of moving into his new apartment and improving his tennis. Jean-Jacques Beineix would like to relax. If that is possible.

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