When I lived in Paris in the mid 80s this poster, in full French grande format, dwarfed my tiny chambre de bonne. Betty Blue (playing on MUBI for free in the US this week) or, rather, 37.2 Le Matin, as it was originally called, was the first film I saw when I arrived in France in the summer of 86. Not yet a proper cinephile (a year in Paris did that to me) I was nonetheless a huge fan of Jean-Jacques Beineix. In my first year at college I was convinced that Diva was the best film ever made, and a couple of years later my university flatmates briefly tolerated the bloody poster of Beineix’s follow-up film maudit The Moon in the Gutter in our living room. So I was barely off the bus from London when I went to see 37.2 Le Matin (in a theater later firebombed for showing The Last Temptation of Christ). My high school French wasn’t enough to allow me to understand half of what was going on, but, after all, this was le cinéma du look, so who needed words? Over the next 12 months I saw the film two more times, each time comprehending a little more as my French improved, until I finally understood the key phrase (spoiler alert) “elle a arraché un oeil.” To this day only Do the Right Thing conveys the heat of summer to me more perfectly than the opening scenes of Betty Blue. And Gabriel Yared’s superb score was constantly on my Walkman as I roamed the city. Years later, when I met my future wife, this poster, or the American version, was hanging in the hallway of her apartment. Surely a good sign.
Betty Blue was nominated for Best Foreign Film at both the Golden Globes and the Oscars, both times losing out to Fons Rademaker’s The Assault (say what?). And it earned nine César nominations, including best film, best director, best score, best actor and best actress (the incomparable Béatrice Dalle), but it won only one: for none other than Meilleure affiche (best poster, credited to one Christian Blondel).
So whatever happened to Jean-Jacques Beineix? His was one of the cinema’s great disappearing acts. He made three more features—Roselye and the Lions (1989), IP5 (1992) and Mortal Transfer (2001)—none of which fared well outside France (and none of which I’ve ever seen). And after a TV documentary in 2002 he seems to have retired from filmmaking. Meanwhile, Luc Besson, initially written off as a poor man’s Beineix (Subway was no Diva!), went on to have the career he should have had.
But there are a couple of surprises in Beineix’s benighted filmography. I didn’t know that in 1997 he made a half-hour TV documentary called Locked-In Syndrome about Jean-Dominique Bauby: the subject, ten years later, of Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. But the real revelation is that the 26-year-old Beineix was 2nd assistant director on Jerry Lewis’s unseen 1972 Holocaust folly The Day the Clown Cried. (Even Beineix never saw the film, as he recounts here.)
Moon in the Gutter, IP5, Mortal Transfer and Beineix’s little known 1994 documentary about Japanese subcultures, Otaku, will all be playing for free on MUBI in the coming weeks and I for one will be checking them out. Meanwhile, if anyone has a hi-res file of the UK Moon in the Gutter poster (below) I’ve been looking for one for ages and would love to have a copy. As for Beineix, we’ll always have Paris.