It’s not always good to be right too soon. It has often been said that the two B’s, Luc Besson and Jean Jacques Beineix, together revolutionized French cinema in the 1980s. This is not entirely true. Beineix, who died of leukemia at the age of 75 on Thursday January 13 in Paris surrounded by his wife Agnès and his daughter Frida, started alone, with “Diva” in 1981, two years before “The last fight » and four years before « Subway », by Besson, who owes a lot to his film.
“Diva” was released in March 1981, two months before the election of François Mitterrand. The film doesn’t work at first, but becomes a password. Its enormous success for a first work, two million admissions over more than a year of operation thanks to four Césars won in 1982, “Diva” owes it solely to word of mouth. His totally new cinema, nourished by the nascent aesthetic of music videos and advertising, displeased the guardians of the temple: for the children of the New Wave, he was not a nerd fed on the history of cinema, but a small clever pubard-style. For the classics of the time, Sautet, Truffaut, innkeeper or Miller, a filmmaker of the look who is not interested in the human.
Diva and divine
It is somewhat true. The UFO “Diva” tells a story that we have never seen, incomprehensible on paper, that of a postman crazy about opera, who by recovering the only existing recording of a singer – the diva – finds himself ransacked by a gang of thugs. Mouths: in this film parade the young Richard Bohringer, Gerard Darmon or Dominique Pinon in comic book figures. Beineix mixes avant-garde and fun, formalism and entertainment. Diva and divine.
But the trouble will begin. Right now. And without respite. Beineix, rather arrogant, cold, who is said to be a misanthrope, arrives at the Cannes Film Festival with his second film in 1983, “The moon in the gutter”, endowed with a star, Gérard Depardieu, surrounded by Nastassja Kinski and Victoria Abril.
Even more saturated colorful aesthetic, but we don’t understand anything, even the trailer fails to suggest the semblance of a story. Shipwreck. Begins the legend of a cursed filmmaker, who will first succeed in one out of two films, then none.
“37°2 in the morning”, his greatest success
With “37°2 in the morning”, his best, in 1986, we believe him to be in the pantheon for a long time. He creates his own star, Beatrice Dalle, an unknown who ignites the screen: the spectators of this spring wonder if Jean-Hugues Anglade and she make love for real. Everything is electric, sulfurous, sensual, but everything holds together: the film is adapted from a novel by Philippe Djian who collaborated on the screenplay. The colorful formalism is still there: the character played by Anglade, a security guard, has to repaint 500 bungalows by the sea, but his irradiated love story with Betty, the unmanageable, takes everything in its path: 3.6 million spectators , Beineix’s greatest success. And the last.
The filmmaker always wants to go further. Too far. In his next film, “Roselyne and the lions”, in 1989, he again cast an unknown, Isabelle Pasco, who will remain so. Beautiful image, as always, but the magic doesn’t work in a fantasy circus world, too unreal. The worst awaits.
“The controversy was very unfair”
In “IP5”, in 1992, he calls upon Yves Montand in the role of an enigmatic old backpacker who crosses France with a backpack and a map where the lakes are surrounded by a red mark. And in the bag, a loaded old Luger. Montand died on November 9, 1991, aged 70, of a heart attack, shortly after filming and before the film was released. Like his character, who succumbed to a heart attack.
The legend of the cursed filmmaker darkens further when he is accused of not having spared the old actor enough. A tenacious rumor, yet contradicted by the last companion of the sacred monster, Carole Amiel. The latter will tell that Montand, overworked, rehearsed his next recital in the evening at Bercy during the filming and had assumed his strength. “The controversy was very unfair for Jean-Jacques who had taken all the precautions. The French were so shocked, surprised and sad that a culprit had to be found, ”she explained later in the columns of Parisien-Aujourd’hui en France.
The damage is done, especially since the film, which Beineix considered his favorite, the closest to him, again meets with failure. He did nothing for nine years, until “Mortel Transfert”, a forgettable psychoanalytic thriller in which he reunited with Jean-Hugues Anglade. Sixth feature film and endgame, already, twenty years after “Diva”.
The director disappears from screens and radars, publishes the first volume of his autobiography, then a first novel in 2020, “Toboggan”. Father of a daughter, remarried after a heartbreak, Beineix admits to being embittered. Unloved, or unloving. Haughty loneliness. He had a wounded eagle eye on reality. The color of the 1980s, this tinsel to taunt the crisis, it was he who captured it.