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Author: Phil Powrie

One of the key features of Jean-Jacques Beineix's relationship with the film image is the notion of seduction and the erotic. This book shows Beineix's films form a coherent body of work and sketches out a psychodrama formed by Beineix's feature films. It explains, the cinéma du look was placed by many, including Beineix himself, in a position of confrontation with the cinema of the nouvelle vague. The book considers the early 1980s debates concerning the film image which led to the view espoused by Jean-Michel Frodon, after a brief account of Beineix's apprenticeship years. It attempts to place Beineix's work within the context of the development of French cinema, and discourses on the French cinema, as they evolved during the 1980s. Beineix's first feature film, Diva, enjoyed considerable success, becoming something of a cult film for the youth audience of the time, as well as launching the careers of Richard Bohringer and Dominique Pinon. More than any of the films of the cinéma du look, La Lune dans le caniveau exemplifies the characteristics Bassan enumerates: a mise en scène, which privileges exuberance, light, movement, especially the curves and curls of the camera, and an emphasis on sensation. Bereavement after IP5 turned Beineix away from feature filmmaking, despite several propositions from American producers, Alien Resurrection and The Avengers among them.

Staging Carmen’s death
Phil Powrie

There have been some eighty film adaptations of the Carmen story since 1895 (excluding over thirty TV films), based either on Prosper Mérimée’s novella (1845) or on Georges Bizet’s opera (1875), or on a combination of both. It is one of the most adapted stories in cinema history, and the most adapted classical literature in French cinema. Those adaptations range across national cinemas: the USA is the most prominent (27), followed by France (10), Spain (9), UK (8), Italy (6), Germany (4), Brazil (2), Russia (2), and there are Argentinian, Austrian, Czech, Dutch, Mexican, Senegalese, Slovenian, South African, Swedish, and Venezuelan versions. The Carmen story has unsurprisingly then been the focus of considerable academic attention. In this chapter I will focus on the climax of the story, the ritualistic murder of the threatening femme fatale represented by Carmen in her irreducible difference. In most cases, Carmen’s death takes place either in the wild countryside of Mérimée’s novella, or in the urbanized bullring of Bizet’s opera. A majority of film versions construct the death scene as a ritual performance where the location is an enclosed and generally non-realist stage, especially when the rest of the film has been relatively realist in its use of locations. Using Foucault’s theory of heterotopia as ‘other’ contested place, I argue that the reason for this staging is to provide a segregated ritual space which retrospectively legitimizes the narrative as a performance of excessive sexualities, at the same time as, paradoxically, it contains that excess by staging it as a performance.

in French literature on screen
Phil Powrie

After La lune dans le caniveau, Jean-Jacques Beineix worked on a script for a vampire film, based on the novel La Vierge de glace by Marc Behm. This project, for which Beineix bought the rights, and has continued to pay them annually, was shelved because American producers felt that the budget of $20 million was too high. Beineix worked on the adaptation, this time alone, over a period of two months in Saint Cyprien, near Gruissan, on the Languedoc coast. Gruissan is the site of the 1930s beach houses on stilts which are one of the more startling images of the film. Disenchanted with his experience of the producers of his two previous films, he had created his own company, Cargo Films, in November 1984, and tried to associate with some Swiss producers for 37°22 le matin.

in Jean-Jacques Beineix
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Phil Powrie

After making Le Chien de Monsieur Michel in 1977 and winning the first prize for it at the Festival de Trouville, Jean-Jacques Beineix decided to stop work as an assistant director and prepare a script with Olivier Mergault whom he had met on set. This was the story of a honeymoon gone wrong, with the newly-weds grounded in Paris by a strike. Diva was released in March 1981. Many reviewers pointed out the newness of Diva's style, which was felt to reflect a contemporary aesthetic. Diva is the only film by Beineix to have solicited considerable scholarly attention. Partly no doubt because of the film's success in the USA, it drew the attention of one of the foremost theorists of the postmodern, Fredric Jameson. He points out that the film marks a turn which corresponds to the accession to power of the left for the first time in thirty-five years.

in Jean-Jacques Beineix
Phil Powrie

More than any of the films of the cinéma du look, La Lune dans le caniveau exemplifies the characteristics Bassan enumerates: a mise en scène which privileges exuberance, light, movement, especially the curves and curls of the camera, and an emphasis on sensation. This chapter explores the language and the way it generates a particular type of nostalgia unanchored in the real, unlike, say, heritage cinema. It locates the film's visual style and its narrative concerns in a genre which reviewers have on the whole not mentioned in relation to La Lune dans le caniveau. The chapter explains why the main interest of the film beyond its re-articulation of melodrama is the way in which Depardieu-as-star is reconfigured in the film, his iconicity questioned: he is de-iconised and re-iconised by the film in a gesture towards an impossible authenticity.

in Jean-Jacques Beineix
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Phil Powrie

One of the key features of Jean-Jacques Beineix's relationship with the film image is the notion of seduction and the erotic. Beineix's screen career began in 1969 as a trainee for a long-running television comedy series, Les Saintes Chêries, directed by Jean Becker. This chapter explores the concept of the postmodernism, first in general terms, then in relation to film, before passing on to the specifically French focus on advertising. Beineix and Luc Besson's films also managed to reflect the contemporary mood of cynicism and alienation prevalent in the youth class, which felt disenfranchised, as films like La Haine in the 1990s have continued to underline. Several reviewers had used the word baroque in relation to Diva in 1981. It was not until 1989 that the issue was explored in some depth by Bassan, writing for the Revue du cinéma.

in Jean-Jacques Beineix
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Phil Powrie

This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the key concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book shows how Jean-Jacques Beineix's films form a coherent body of work and sketches out a psychodrama formed by Beineix's feature films. It depends largely on the idea that a director's films, however heterogeneous in appearance, nevertheless have themes and styles in common which suggest the worldview of an auteur. It is likely that for the youth audiences of the cinéma du look, the notion of the auteur played little part in their appreciation of Beineix's films, as the difference in audience figures between Diva and La Lune dans le caniveau suggests. It is ironic that Beineix's films have been seen principally as part of the modernisation which the multiplex and a new type of audience might be considered to represent.

in Jean-Jacques Beineix
Phil Powrie

As he had done after La Lune dans le caniveau, Jean-Jacques Beineix had gone on a three-month cruise in his yacht after the release of 37°2 le matin, visiting Stromboli before going on to the Peleponnese islands. Given the polemics to which Beineix's previous films had given rise, reviewers' reactions to Roselyne et les lions were in the main surprisingly positive, if somewhat muted. The general feeling was that the film was slow and simple, and the finale excessive. Reviewers, indeed, and even more so interviewers, made much of the apparent parallels between Roselyne et les lions and Luc Besson's Le Grand Bleu, seeing these films, along with Annaud's L'Ours, as part of a trend: films which focused on animals as much, if not more, in the case of Annaud's film, than humans.

in Jean-Jacques Beineix
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Phil Powrie

In 1991, Jacques Forgeas, who had collaborated with Jean-Jacques Beineix for Roselyne et les lions, gave the script of IP5 to Beineix, who worked on it for a couple of months. There were familiar names on the team: Robin for the photography, Yared for the music and Monnet, who played Frazier in Roselyne et les lions, as the village butcher. IP5 is the first film where Beineix had free rein with the narrative. As he has frequently pointed out, with his first three films he was in a sense merely illustrating a story, and even in the fourth he was using someone else's story, Le Portier's biography. In IP5, he was using Forgeas's original script, but the film is framed by two very personal statements penned by Beineix himself. Some reviewers suggested that IP5 was a film riding on the back of the ecological movement.

in Jean-Jacques Beineix
Phil Powrie

Bereavement after IP5 turned Jean-Jacques Beineix away from feature filmmaking, despite several propositions from American producers, Alien Resurrection and The Avengers among them. During 1999 Beineix worked to raise money for his long-standing project, the comic vampire film based on Marc Behm's novel. However, a new feature film was planned, as alluded to by Beineix in the foreword to this volume, Mortel Transfert, based on a novel of the same name by Jean-Pierre Gattégno. This was a co-production between Cargo Films and Odeon, one of the contributors to the funding of the vampire film. Mortel Transfert went into production in April 2000. It was subsequently shown at various festivals: the polar festival at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines and the Berlin festival. The general reaction to the film was that its mixture of genres, thriller and comedy had not gelled in quite the way Beineix had intended.

in Jean-Jacques Beineix