PARIS – Oscar-nominated film director Jean-Jacques Beineix, who has died aged 75, survived a panning by French critics to make Betty Blue, one of the most iconic films of the 1980s.
Beineix died this week after a long illness at his home in Paris, his family confirmed to AFP.
The filmmaker, who tended to take criticism to heart, never forgot the drubbing he took for his first film Diva in 1981, which only became a hit in France after it had been heaped with prizes abroad, AFP reported.
Decades later Beineix, a pioneer of the French “cinema du look” that was later embraced by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element), was still smarting from being dismissed for his “ad-man’s aesthetic” of favouring style over story.
“No one is a prophet in their own land,” said Beineix, who trained as a doctor before making his name with a striking television public health warning about AIDS.
His second film The Moon in the Gutter, starring Gerard Depardieu and Nastassja Kinski, also got a critical kicking, with Beineix saying he “never got over” being booed at its premiere at the Cannes film festival in 1983.
“The hurt is there. The fact that I am finished today started there,” he told French radio in 2020.
Despite Betty Blue‘s deluge of Oscar, Golden Globe and Bafta nominations, French critics called it pretentious and boring.
Still, the poster featuring actress Beatrice Dalle went on to adorn millions of bedrooms across the world.
“I love you,” Dalle wrote in a message to Beineix on her Instagram page on Friday (14 Jan), adding that the filming had been “one of the most beautiful pages of my life”.
Yet far from basking in the film’s glory, the movie’s success worried the director at the time.
“It can change your life forever, in good ways and in a lot of bad,” he said.
Beineix still took the plunge when the big Hollywood studios came knocking.
“I decided to walk across the minefield… to have dinner with the devil,” he later said.
But he turned down huge opportunities in 1990, including the chance to direct The Avengers, Alien Resurrection and The Name of the Rose.
And his career never again hit the heady heights of those early years.
Beineix was also traumatised by the death of Yves Montand, the star of his The Island of Pachyderms (1992), just days after the film wrapped.
The director felt some blamed him for the death of the actor and singer, a national treasure in France.
“He died two days after we did reshoots ironically of the scene in which he dies.”
Some made “a connection between his death and the film, almost implying that the film had killed him,” he added.
“Yves wasn’t there to defend me, or the film, so it was very tough.”
‘Dreamed of love’
Born on 08 Oct 1946, in Paris, Beineix first made his mark in advertising before taking a pay cut to become an assistant director for French stalwarts Claude Berri, Jean Becker and Claude Zidi.
His first feature, the psychological thriller Diva about a young postman obsessed with an opera diva, won four Cesars, the French equivalent of the Oscars and is now considered a cult classic.
An expert on the Japanese manga, Beineix dreamed that Asian filmmakers would make common cause with Europe to offer an alternative to Hollywood’s “industrial machine”.
Although he continued to make documentaries, Beineix began to write, returning to the theme of his greatest success, Betty Blue in his debut novel, Toboggan.
The 2020 work had echoes of the film, with an unbalanced young woman who has a passionate affair with a would-be writer.
“I dreamed of love before anything else,” he said.