Jean-Jacques Beineix
An Interview
interview by Paula Nechak, 22 June 2001

Come back to the movies, Jean-Jacques Beineix, Jean-Jacques Beineix.

The madman-apparent of French cinema, who reached a pinnacle with his first film, Diva, and then hurtled into a morass of critical bashing with his next, Moon In the Gutter, sports two films on Variety's list of best foreign films ever made (Diva, and Betty Blue) yet has lately been missing from the big screen.

His last feature was 1992's IP5: The Island of Pachyderms which barely whispered for release in America, and for which Beineix was accused by the French press of having "killed" the film's star, Yves Montand, who died after making the film.

So what happened? Feeling overlooked and underappreciated, the now fifty-four-year-old Frenchman took a foray away from feature filmmaking after five films and tested non-fiction turf, travelling the world and directing four documentaries in the process. He also began writing an autobiography and - suffering the death of his mother and press agent - underwent some serious soul-searching. Through a depression and reemergence into light, his sixth feature, Mortal Transfer, was born.

Based on the novel Mortel Transfert by Jean-Pierre Gattegno, Mortal Transfer stars Jean-Hugues Anglade, the star of Betty Blue, as middle-aged psychiatrist Michel Durand, incapacitated by his own unconcluded Freudian issues, which vividly act out after a rich, sexy patient named Olga Kubler (Helene de Fougerolles) - also a thief - teasingly reclines upon his couch for a session. The shrink slips into sleep and awakes to find his patient murdered. Is it transference or something else entirely? Shades of Hitchcock, shades of Marnie, you might think, but Beineix, who claims two of his favorite directors are Hitchcock and Woody Allen, has injected the film with a wickedly funny black humor, a crafty voluptuousness and all that trademark Beineix surrealness. Mortal Transfer is a ticket to a forbidden realm - a wild ride into that deep, dark, inexplicable human mindset called desire; but don't we dare forget the denial that goes along with it.

On the morning following Beineix's toast at a month-long retrospective of his work -including Diva, Moon In the Gutter, Betty Blue, Rosalyne and the Lions and IP5: The Island of Pachyderms and topped by a successful screening of Mortal Transfer to a packed, appreciative audience - hosted by the Seattle International Film Festival - Beineix opened up, really opened up, and spoke his mind - not that you'd expect anything else from the provocative auteur.

Paula Nechak: The French critics called Mortal Transfer "unfocused, confusing" and "self-indulgent." Yet it's a highly accessible, very funny film. Why the lack of enthusiasm and pride? 

Jean-Jacques Beineix: The French critics killed this movie. I'm the director, also a producer and screenwriter, so when I say things like 'they hated me,' there is suspicion, there is doubt about what you say. The fact is, they really killed the movie. But I heard that about Diva, I heard that about Betty Blue. Whatever my films are, they're not self-indulgent. The problem is, France, besides America, is probably the only country that can crown or destroy a movie. An example is Lars von Trier's last movie [Dancer In the Dark] was bashed in his own country. If he were bashed in France or America he'd be dead. But he won the prizes at Cannes and the film went on to do very well. My only hope was to establish the film yet my words are not enough because I'm the director. So I decided to come here [Seattle] to make the test with the audience because I think here audiences are benevolent rather than malevolent. I stayed in the audience last night during the film and it was the most relieved I've been since Toronto twenty years ago when Canadian audiences saved Diva.

PN: That's ironic since you are a part of a cultural embassy to save French cinema from an onslaught of American movies. Yet you are loved in America and criticized in France.

JJB: It's true [laughing]. I think France is a very strange country. There is great intelligence there yet narrowness at the same time. Yet I could say that no one profits in his own country. In France there are some American directors not recognized in America. Or if you say 'Peter Greenaway' or 'Alan Parker' in England it's the same - they'll smash you. You have to understand that I have two films on the Variety list of the best foreign films of the last twenty years. In America, Diva is taught in the university. In France they're told not to like it. So I came here to seek redemption.

PN: There is a voluptuousness, a surrealism found only in dreams in your films. Are they manifestations of your dreams?

JJB: It's more like some kind of need to manipulate things and change slightly the reality, to turn it into something else. It deals with being a painter, a sculptor, a photographer in life. In order to make it bigger, stranger and something beyond that which you can imagine, well, choosing to deal with a psychoanalyst [in Mortal Transfer] is a piece of cake when you want to show the things beyond the thing.

PN: Each of your films is age-appropriate. By that I mean Diva is a young man's romantic escapade; Moon in the Gutter full blown romance; Betty Blue shows the beginning of romantic disillusion. Moving on, Mortal Transfer is a middle-aged man's story, dealing with issues and reconciling his life - yet it ultimately finds a more sensible romantic end. Has this been a conscious recognizance?

JJB: Definitely. It's very funny and it's a therapy. It's an expression of what I deeply feel and it's also very tricky because it's not just the exterior but a way to manipulate - to tease and hide. I placed a lot of very personal experience inside all the films, things which are sometimes details, not the important things. I always said, and I still believe it will happen, that when I started making films I was the next generation after the nouvelle vague who had some kind of need to start each film with either film noir or autobiography. I was too shy to express myself directly so I did it perversely, by the side. Films are the expression of what you are, what you feel and what your feelings are about the world.

PN: I have heard you are a madman. But I see you care passionately about your films, your work. Why do people equate caring with difficulty, madness?

JJB: It's probably going to be a big part of the book I'll write. So many things have been said but I have to understand who said it. Maybe on many occasions they are not the good people, but the bad people. Because you resist, because you're a maverick, because you're madly passionate for what you do, and probably whimsical, they think so. But not mad. I do my job very well and I'm extremely respectful of talent and of good people. But I am extremely tough with stupid people and I don't like bullsh*t. Also, I probably do have a big mouth and I say things. I say 'I don't make this film because it's really stupid.' I also want the final cut because I have produced my last three pictures. So if I don't get final cut, I say I don't make the picture with you. That's it.

PN: You made five features and then went off to make four documentaries before returning to features with Mortal Transfer. What was it about this book that brought you back?

JJB: I never wanted to stop filmmaking. I had some kind of depression. When Yves Montand died they accused me of having killed him. It's true, it was in the news; it was big. I was some kind of desireless. Then my mother died. I was hit by that beyond expectation. I was hit by some kind of love when I thought I didn't like her. Then my press agent, who I really cared for and who was really a good friend, died the same year. Same cancer, same way. It's like you've been punched and punched and punched. It built up and suddenly I couldn't make a picture. There was pressure, the need for a hit and I just couldn't do anymore. I had doubts but in order to keep my need of creation, which was a way to cure myself, I went into the cultural exception battle. Then I went to documentaries. The feeling of bitterness and a lack of desire was replaced by the interests and passions of the people I was meeting in my documentaries. I went to therapy, which I started when I was very young, and as I had gone to medical school because I once wanted to be a shrink. So then I had this book by Gattegno. I gathered my whole company, which is five people [laughs], and said 'we're going to have a movie by the end of this year.' Nobody believed it. But I did it.  Copyright 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.