Jean-Jacques Beineix, a French film director whose feature film debut, the dazzling, droll thriller “Diva,” was critically acclaimed in the early 1980s, especially outside France, and is often credited with starting a genre of French filmmaking known stands as the cinéma du look, died on January 13 at his home in Paris. He was 75.
His family announced his death to Agence France-Presse, saying that Mr. Beineix (pronounced Beh-nix) died after a long illness. Unifrance, the organization that promotes French cinema, has praised “its innovative, intensely visual, iconic cinema” in a statement.
In ‘Diva’, a fan secretly records the performance of a famous American soprano who has banned the recording of her vocals, causing a series of complications, including blackmail. An unusual aspect of the film was that the title character was played by a real opera singer, Wilhelmenia Fernandez. But the most unusual thing about the film, for the time, was its appearance, full of color, references to other films and strange camera angles.
“Everything is seen through glass, in mirrors or as reflected from the surface of mud puddles,” Vincent Canby wrote in DailyExpertNews in 1982, when the film, which had opened in France the year before, was set to play in New York. “If a scene was not shot from a low angle, it will be shot from a chandelier.”
Pauline Kael, in The New Yorker, was also struck by the visual bravado.
“It’s a mix of style and chic handkerchief,” she wrote of the film, “but it’s also really sparkly. The camera slides forward and you see things you don’t expect. Beineix thinks with its eyes.”
His style was also called the new New Wave.
“Unlike the old New Wavers,” The Times’ Manohla Dargis explained in 2007, when a new print of “Diva” was shown at Film Forum, “which sought to question the relationship between the real and the image, the new New Wavers seized on the unreality of cinema and underlined its falsity, its theatricality and its surface.”
Luc Besson and Leos Carax were among the other directors often shot in the genre, although that wasn’t always a compliment; some critics blame the films for emphasizing style over substance. Certainly, the next Mr. Beineix – he made only a few feature films – were met with mixed reviews at best.
The most famous of these was “Betty Blue” (1986), a drama about an obsessive love affair. Sheila Benson named it one of the 10 best of the year in the Los Angeles Times.
“Beineix’s power is to pull us into the center of this rambunctious love affair, to feel its magnetic pull as strong as we feel the impending doom,” she wrote.
But Janet Maslin told DailyExpertNews that the film has “a superficial, sunny beauty and little more”. The two protagonists, Béatrice Dalle and Jean-Hugues Anglade, spent much of the film unclothed.
“If any of them made it through the admissions without catching a bad cold, that’s a miracle,” Ms Maslin wrote.
Mr. Beineix accepted that his films could generate both ridicule and praise.
“That’s the risk you take,” he told The Gazette of Montreal in 2001. ‘But if an artist doesn’t take any risks, what’s left? There should at least be a minimum of provocation in art. That’s what movies should do.”
Jean-Jacques Beineix was born on October 8, 1946 in Paris. He loved movies from an early age, he said, but didn’t immediately pursue a career in filmmaking.
“I was never the kind of cinephile who belonged to a club,” he told The International Herald Tribune in 2006. “I did not get on my knees in front of the Cahiers du Cinema altar” – a reference to the famous film magazine.
Instead, he took a leap of faith after earning a degree in philosophy and then studying medicine for several years.
“I eventually dropped out of college when I was 24,” he told The Chicago Tribune in 1982, “to take a job as an assistant film director at the lowest level. I brought coffee to the people and loved every minute of it because I no longer had to study.”
During the 1970s, he worked his way from second assistant director (including on the 1972 Jerry Lewis film “The Day the Clown Cried”) to first assistant director on films by Claude Zidi, Claude Berri, and others. He gained valuable experience, but by the late 1970s, he was beginning to hate being an understudy.
“I saw things being done a certain way, and I wanted them to be done differently,” he told The Tribune.
So he made “Diva,” although the film wasn’t an instant success — largely, he thought, because he couldn’t be easily pigeonholed. Critics in France weren’t happy about it, and promoters didn’t know how to promote it.
“But eventually word of mouth turned everything around,” he said. And a foreign audience began to discover the film. At the Toronto Festival of Festivals in 1981, it finished second in the audience voting for the event’s most popular film, behind “Chariots of Fire.”
Its follow-up, ‘The Moon in the Gutter’, didn’t do so well. It was booed at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival and flopped.
The movies of mr. Beineix after “Betty Blue” include “IP5: The Island of Pachyderms” in 1992. The cast included respected actor and singer Yves Montand, who died of a heart attack in November 1991 near the end of filming. Mr. Beineix felt that people blamed him for the death. Shortly afterwards, both his mother and his press agent, a close friend, also died. He hasn’t made a feature film for almost ten years.
“It’s like being beaten and beaten and beaten,” he told the film website Nitrate Online in 2001. “It built up and suddenly I couldn’t take a picture.”
His return to filmmaking, with the comedy thriller “Mortal Transfer” in 2001, was not a success.
Mr Beineix’s survivors include his wife, Agnes, and a daughter, Frida.