French dressing

Lauded on the arthouse circuit for Betty Blue and Diva, Jean-Jacques Beineix’s latest work, 1P5, is less self-consciously stylish. He spoke to Trevor Johnston about his latest career moves.

Seven years can pull a lot of changes on a man. In August of I986. the morning after Betty Blue opened the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Jean- Jacques Beineix was a sleek-haired figure in suave designer knitwear: un vrai smoothie talking celluloid aesthetics. his love of commercials and his eagerness to take on the Hollywood big boys. In November of I993. it's like meeting a different person: the severe three-button suit and bristly number-two cut complementing an equally pronounced shift in filmmaking values. These days he’s interested in

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people. in personal communication. in giving up the movies altogether to concentrate on video reportage. Beineix-style. In the year ofJurassie Par/t. he‘s alternater weariedby and combative towards the US hegemony on European screens.

In Britain. we haven't yet seen his French TV documentary on Romanian orphanages. while the piece he‘s producing on a new AIDS treatment and his video portrait of Japan‘s adolescent techno-freaks or ‘Otaku’ are still in the works. His most recent movie. I992‘s 1P5 remains our first chance to sample the ‘new’ Beineix - older. wiser. mellower and those expecting more of Diva or Betty Blue‘s Gallic chic-cry will have to resign themselves to the director’s self-proclaimed ‘evolution‘. No opera singers. grand pianos and big cars here; instead Beineix gives us a film about ‘the abandoned generation of suburban kids'.

‘They write their names on the walls to get some recognition.‘ he continues. in musically-accented English. ‘It’s my fifth movie. but the title doesn‘t stand for ‘Ile de Pachyderms 5‘ or ‘Intellectually Poor 5'; the IPS is just the signature adopted by a young graffiti artist. He's a little hooligan. in a way. but like all these kids. he just wants a piece of happiness and he‘s been rejected by society.‘

Half-tough, half-sentimental. writer/producer/direetor Beineix‘s story of youth and experience unfolds amid very real Parisian urban deprivation. Spray can artist Tony (Oliver Martinez) and young pal Jockey (Sekkou Sall. a heart-rending performance) attract the unwelcome attentions of some ultra-right skinheads and wind up driving a van full of garden gnomes (just don‘t ask!) across country at their behest. It’s ajoumey which turns into one big learning curve when a woodland accident throws them into the company of Leon (Yves Montand. his

last role). a wandering old man who‘s either a mystic visionary or a fugitive from mental health care. Their transport out of action. this unlikely trio trek through the surrounding greenery together. a formative experience for city kids who’ve barely seen real trees before. Thrown in for free is a life lesson in the power and price of love from their elderly companion. still haunted by a big romance almost half a century hence.

As captured by some luminescent camerawork. the forest is an arena of transformation where the characters‘ truest needs and desires are revealed. ‘The kid is missing his mother. the teenager is experiencing the first pains of love. the old man is reaching the end of his life and realising he‘ll never know all the answers. It‘s a bitter film about life and loneliness. but. above all. it‘s about communication. Maybe you can help those who come after you to 5 learn about all the mistakes you made yourself.‘

Although the death of national icon Yves Montand - you‘ll shudder as he skinny dips in a chilly-looking lake overshadowed the film‘s release in France. the septuagenerian‘s authoritative presence is crucial to the piece's cumulative emotional portent. Although the superficial glamour of his earlier work has been buffed away. at its core [BS is remarkably consistent with Beineix's deeply romantic vision of life as a continual struggle to be at one with our dreams. The man himselfagrees with such an assessment: it‘s evident in the unfairly-maligned Roselyne And The Lions (‘We‘re all in a cage trying to do a show; it‘s a metaphor not a film about lions'). in the ill-received ; Moon In The Gutter (‘lt‘s a very modem movie about ; a media-generated world of fantasy‘) and even in

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IFS: 'story of youth and oxperionco’

Diva. the stylish I982 arthouse smash that launched

him in the first place (‘Here are characters escaping from the everyday by living in their own virtual { reality.‘).

Most plainly of all. "’5 obvioust shares its

yearning worldview with the phenomenon that is

5 Betty Blue. ‘The incredible success of that movie is

i not just down to the director. it‘s the characters in the : script. Betty is a young girl madly in love with life

; who finds that the world doesn‘t match her

: expectations. For millions of young people, passion

is the last adventure because there is no future for

§ them. Audiences everywhere have understood that.‘

As for his next move, Beineix appears disgruntled

with his privileged position in the French film industry. Tired of the controversies his films seem to attract. tired of battling with the major distributors

who (he reckons) badly screwed up the marketing of

his much-cherished Betty Blue: Version lntegrale.

tired of seeing Hollywood product overwhelming

' European output. his motivation for moviemaking

seems to be flagging. his interest instead veering

more and more towards small-scale video

documentary work. ‘I have no problem in raising money. I can do what I want except make movies that are too mean. too tough. too awkward. So where‘s the fun? With video. I can be in control. I can meet genuine people. I can hear incredible stories. After 23 years in the movie business. I’m leaming.‘

"’5 opens at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Sunday 2 January and the Edinburgh F ilmhouse on Friday 7 January.

24 The List [7 December l993—l3 January I994