Death of cinematographer Jean-Jacques Beineix

By Jean-François Robin, AFC

par Jean-François Robin Contre-Champ AFC n°329

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With Jean-Jacques Beineix’s passing, we have lost a filmmaker who marked his generation with an aesthetic derived from 1980s advertising.

I was lucky to shoot a few television ads with him, but especially to work on three feature films, 37°2 le matin, Roselyne et les lions, and IP5. He shot his last film in 2001, Mortel transfert, and since then, besides a few documentaries, he had gone silent, simply theorizing on cinema and publishing a novel, Toboggan, which recounted the career of a filmmaker who had nothing left to say and had stopped creating — a highly autobiographical reference, yet one that he denied. 37°2 le matin became a cult film thanks to the tone and the image that he intended to be flamboyant and which, I hope, lived up to his expectations. For he was demanding and absolutely uncompromising, as are many great directors. We shot extensively, did a lot of takes and used a lot of film, and the first cuts of his films often lasted over three hours.
I remember that, when shooting in faraway lands, that we saw Betty Blue everywhere (the English title of 37°2) – at the time, it was the embodiment of French cinema.
On set, he often got behind the camera and was delighted to use and master a geared head. His shoots alternated between lightness and jokes, and tension, as soon as he felt he was losing control over his film.
On IP5, we experienced a tragedy : the death of Yves Montand on set, where he suffered two heart attacks, one after the other, as he was shooting the last scene of his role.
Beineix was enormously affected by the unfair accusations that he had caused the actor’s death and had a hard time emerging from the resulting deep depression that profoundly affected the rest of his career.
After shooting IP5, he had tried to make an American movie in the United States, but the American system turned out to be a straitjacket that he wasn’t able to adapt to, and the film was never to be.
Jean-Jacques Beineix left his mark on French cinema, namely a new "mannerism" that was emulated by a number of other filmmakers. For over forty years, the style of 37°2 has not faded away, and now and then, bits of it appear in other films, which proves that the memory of his cinema is still alive and that we are not soon going to forget Jean-Jacques Beineix and his cinema.

  • In 1987, I wrote a journal while shooting 37°2, published by Séguier. Today, it reads like a tribute to Jean-Jacques.

The thumbnail image above shows Jean-Hugues Anglade and Béatrice Dalle in 37°2 le matin.