Q&A: Jean-Jacques Beineix


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While he may be known across the globe for his controversial yet successful first feature film "Diva," French film director Jean-Jacques Beineix is anything but. Beineix is best known for his 1986 Oscar-nominated film "Betty Blue," but he's also directed four feature films since then and made a career as a producer at Cargo Films, which he founded in 1984. This year's 14th Pusan International Film Festival jury president sat down with THR's France correspondent Rebecca Leffler to tell her about his love for Asian cinema, Korean sake and wacky vampires.

The Hollywood Reporter: First of all, happy birthday. The Pusan festival opens on Oct. 8, which also happens to be your birthday. What will you do to celebrate?

Jean Jacques Beineix: I'll drink a cup of soju, Korean sake, and hope that I'll have plenty of other cups for many years ahead.

THR: Have you been to Pusan before?

Beineix: It's my first time in Pusan, but I've been to Asia many times, which may explain why they asked me to head the jury. I've been to Japan many times, to Taiwan, to Bangkok and to Hong Kong.

THR: What attracts you to Asian cinema today?

Beineix: Intelligence. The quality and aesthetic of their cinema. It's another type of society that allows us to understand who we are. They're daring. It's a way to learn and to understand the world. Asian cinema is quite alive. They bring to the world a new way to look at people and things in a different way. They've kept their personality. They have a great respect for artists.

THR: And what do you think of contemporary French cinema?

Beineix: I think that French cinema isn't as daring as it was before. It's probably due to the fact that less and less people are making the decisions. It's more like a bureaucracy aimed at making money and getting a commercial response. However, at the same time, French cinema is open to the world. French producers have been helping foreign productions to exist -- African, Asian. French producers are helping to support directors all over the world. I wish we could escape from the standard of mass production and commercial production, but it's the same problem all over the world. I think it's worse than ever. It's a vicious circle. There's too much attention paid to the return on investment. We're slowly erasing all of our difference to serve the global market. The cinema has a huge role to play in society, because everything is intertwined.

THR: You've often been judged harshly by critics, especially in your home country. Now, as jury president, you'll be judging the work of others. How does this feel?

Beineix: First of all, I do have some followers. I haven't had only bad critics. I was just in L.A. for a tribute, so I shouldn't complain. I can safely say there will never be a tribute to my work at the French Cinematheque, that's for sure. But nobody's a prophet in his own country. I'm greatly honored to preside the Pusan jury. I love Korean films and I love the people there. I am extremely excited for this trip. I've always refused to be on juries, and this is the first time I've accepted. I felt honored to have been chosen by the Korean people. I think they're so creative. They help me to keep my passion for cinema alive. Korean cinema is really alive.

THR: Are you planning to direct again soon?

Beineix: I'm working on an adaptation of an American book by Joanne and Gerry Dryansky called "Fatima's Good Fortune." It's about a Tunisian maid working for a wealthy countess in Paris' 16th arrondissement. It's a portrait of Paris through the eyes of a Muslim immigrant. I'm also working on an old project, an adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.'s "The Demon" about a sex-obsessed New York man, that's a metaphor for our society. I'll film in New York, and I'll have an American partner - several producers are interested in the project. I'm also distributing an American film called "End of Poverty." It's an important film -- 1 billion people are starving because of the insane way we deal with international politics. We're living in a very dangerous world, due to our lack of perspective. A lot of people have nothing and a few people have everything. That's not fair.

THR: You've written an autobiography. What can you tell us about yourself that's not in the book?

Beineix: I don't have any secrets. There's no scoop. However, I've only published 1/3 of the story. There's another volume coming. I'll tell the whole story of my meetings in Hollywood, which I haven't told yet. It's definitely a comedy. But, like in every comedy, there's an element of drama.

THR: What's your relationship with Hollywood?

Beineix: Hate and love, love and hate. I've been to America many times. I never managed to perform what they were expecting. I'm sorry about that. But it may not be too late.

THR: Are you working on any projects now with Hollywood?

Beineix: I actually had a vampire movie in development for Hollywood years ago. It's a screwball comedy about vampires. It's called "Deal of the Millennium." I pitched it in Hollywood 20 years ago and they told me "We don't make vampire movies." I said, "you are going to make 10 vampire movies within the decade." I was right. So why don't I have the possibility to make this movie now? It's an ambitious comedy made for a big audience, and it's ready. There's a potential for huge audiences all over the world. A lot of people are interested in vampires, but there aren't any comedies about them. The script is very good, and I am looking to CG animation as well. The pitch is extremely simple: It's about two young vampires who want to buy a vampire castle, but the castle is going to be bought by a huge Kuwaiti consortium to be transformed into a medieval pizzeria. My two vampires have to resort to a hold-up in order to get the money to fight the petrol money. It's crazy! It makes fun of everything in vampires movies -- blood, dying, coffins. There's no consistency in Hollywood. I'm in a state of shock, how can a system that is so perfect have let this leak? It's been 20 years. I was beloved there, then I aged, now it's old. But what was old is now fashionable. This project is a money-maker.

THR: What do you do when you're not working?

Beineix: I play the piano. I take pictures. I paint. I read. I do a lot of things. And I fight for the cinema, for a decent, fair and honest cinema.

THR: Remakes are all the rage these days. If you were to remake "Betty Blue" today, who would you cast in the lead roles?

Beineix: Actually, a big, young American director is already interested in doing a remake. When I made "Betty Blue," I gave a chance to a newcomer. So I'd say the leading female role should go to a Hispanic, Mexican, African-American or Asian actress. She needs to be a real femme fatale. It would make a great remake, as long as the parts go to young actors. It was a daring movie, it has to be a daring remake, that's all I ask.

THR: You've said before that you're shy. Is this true?

Beineix: It's true. If I wasn't shy, I would be in front of the camera. I'm behind it. It plagued my life. I look at actors and I'm quite fascinated by what they do and how daring they are. Good actors, I'm talking about. People who are really taking risks -- Daniel Day Lewis, this is a guy I love. Or Korean actors like Choi Min Sik and Song Kang Ho -- great actors.

THR: Who are your greatest influences?

Beineix: There are so many directors, who are all different in terms of their style and personality. Above everyone is Stanley Kubrick, but I'm not trying to be another Stanley Kubrick, of course. That would be insane. Then there's Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Tati, Melville, Prevert, Bunuel, Fritz Lang, Bergman. I've been raised by all of the great directors. There are so many others. I like films that say something about the world -- love, passion, death, et cetera. The cinema is still the greatest art form. There's still the same need to have a living cinema, one not just aimed at giving excitation or filling a satisfaction of basic desires. We need a cinema that thinks.

Presence at Pusan: President, New Currents Jury
Born: Oct. 8, 1946, Paris
Selected filmography: Diva (1981), Betty Blue (1986), Roselyne and the Lions (1989), IP5: The Island of Pachyderms (1992), Mortal Transfer (2001)
Notable awards: Oscar nomination, best foreign film, "Betty Blue"; BAFTA nominations, best foreign film, "Betty Blue" and "Diva," Golden Globe nomination "Betty Blue," Cesar award nominations, best film, best director, "Betty Blue"