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L.A. tributes to 'Betty Blue's' Jean-Jacques Beineix

The French director is getting long overdue attention with in-person shows at the Egyptian and a 'Betty' screening at West L.A.'s Nuart.

July 02, 2009|Susan King

In terms of respect, French director Jean-Jacques Beineix is sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of filmmaking in his country.

When his first film, 1981's "Diva," opened in France, the critics gave it a resounding thumbs down. But word-of-mouth built for the quirky story of a postman and opera buff who ends up recording his singing idol. "Diva" became a huge hit not only in France but also internationally.

But his next film, 1983's "The Moon in the Gutter," was lambasted by critics and audiences -- one review said that the "movie is in the gutter." Even star Gerard Depardieu bad-mouthed it. "Now, he says it was one of the best films he made," says Beineix, smiling.

And then there was his unfortunate association with the death of the beloved French star Yves Montand, when the actor died shortly after completing Beineix's 1992 film "IP5: The Island of Pachyderms."

"No one is a prophet in his own country," says Beineix, 63, with a sigh.

But the filmmaker is finally getting some of the plaudits he deserves. The personable director is in town for an in-person tribute tonight through Wednesday at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre. On Friday, the three-hour director's cut of his greatest critical triumph -- 1986's "Betty Blue," which received an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film -- opens at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles for a weeklong engagement.

In addition to his appearance at the Egyptian, Beineix will be doing Q&As after the Friday and Saturday night screenings at the Nuart. And last but not least, Cinema Libre will be releasing several of Beineix's films on DVD this year.

"I am more than thrilled with the tributes," says Beineix, sitting inside the empty Nuart. "I never had a tribute in my country."

Even 23 years after its initial release, "Betty Blue" seems as fresh and controversial as ever. The drama caused a lot of raised eyebrows in 1986 for full-frontal nudity -- both male and female -- and explicit sex scenes.

"Betty Blue" revolves around an obsessive relationship that descends into madness. Jean-Hugues Anglade plays Zorg, a good-natured aspiring novelist working as a handyman at a low-rent seaside resort. He's happy with his slacker existence until the carefree, sexually liberated Betty (Beatrice Dalle) comes into his life and bed.

When Betty reads Zorg's unpublished novel, she desperately tries to get it published and keeps pushing him to write. Despite her wildness and joie de vivre, Betty has as a dark side that corrupts their affair.

Though some may see her as psychotic, Beineix prefers to believe that Betty is "an image of youth. She is what young people are. They need movement. They needed changes. They need the world to change. She is expecting something big. When she sees the world doesn't match her expectations, I think she turns against herself. She is an allegory of what young people are. You have to give them something -- not only to sell them clothes and junk food -- but ideas that help them move the world."

The expanded "Betty Blue," an hour longer than the release version, was Beineix's original cut of the film. But because he was still hurting from the reception to "Moon in the Gutter," he decided to play it safe and become "efficient," he says.

"I decided to take out the moments that were a little bit less in action," he says. "I took out the smile to keep the laugh. I tried to save as much as possible of the action."

But he later became just as obsessed as Betty in his pursuit to restore the film to his original vision.

"I finally went to Canal Plus and I asked them, 'Would you like to have the long version of 'Betty Blue?' They said, 'Yes.' With that money they gave me, I edited it."


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