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French Neo-Baroque (Beineix - Besson - Carax)

Subway dir. Luc Besson
The Program of the 8th American Film Festival Has Been Announced!

Let us go back to the 1980s, a decade that saw the erosion of a great many doctrines and lifestyles, to take a look at one of the most interesting phenomena in French and world cinema, when the new wonderboys were appearing on the scene -- Jean-Jacques Beineix (DivaThe Moon in the GutterBettyBlue), Luc Besson (The Last BattleSubwayThe Big Blue) and Léos Carax (Boy Meets GirlThe Night Is Young) -- and breaking away from the chronic naturalism of French cinema. They did not share identical goals, but in their contradictions, their use of a complex form that incorporated the visual realities of the time (video clips, comics, advertising, fashion), it turned the ideas behind their movies were similar, typified by a carefree elegance, sophisticated ugliness, and a heterogeneity of style that created a new esthetic system out of existing artistic blemishes.

“On the topic of style, Guy Scarpetta, the author of an excellent essay on the ‘Neo-Baroque’, writes: ‘Fashion (fleeting) and art (eternal) can both make perfect use of the very same forms, the very same plastics, or the very same mental states - the line of demarcation lies not so much in “the nature” of the symbols used but in the regime that they are applied to ... that which separates art and distinguishes it from fashion could be its ability to induce pleasure and, simultaneously, elicit a sense of truth even if that truth is the result of a fiction, a sleight of hand ...’. One can find [in the work of] Beineix and his colleagues, to varying degrees, this double effect of pleasure and truth. It is worth noting that these filmmakers have been attacked, hypocritically, for the effect of pleasure (called chaotic formalism) that their films deliver. It frees critics up from exposing phonies, because there hides an all too pessimistic vision of 1980s society..” (Raphaël Bassan, "La Revue du Cinéma", 1989)


Jean-Jacques Beineix

(born October 8, 1946, Paris)

Beineix began his work in cinema as an assistant director alongside Claude Berri. From 1969 through 1978, he assisted such directors as Jean Becker, Claude Berri, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jerry Lewis, Gérard Brach, and Claude Zidi. He directed his first film in 1977, the short Mr. Michel’s Dog, which was very well received by the critics and also won a number of awards. He enjoyed a spectacular debut in 1981 with Diva, the story of a young mailman enamored with a popular opera singer. The film received four Césars, including for best film of the year. Despite its large budget and star-studded cast (Gerard Depardieu and Nastassja Kinski), his second film, The Moon in the Gutter, was unable to repeat his debut success. The director was accused of “Stroheimian nonchalance and megalomania”, but thanks to this film, he gained recognition in the world of advertising, which has always seen it as a creative work. Confusion about Beineix arose once again following the appearance of Betty Blue (1986), which tells the story of the mad love affair between a couple of outsiders, whose mutual passion leads, however, to self-destruction. As a result of this film, which enjoyed great commercial success, Béatrice Dalle, who played the lead role, became a new sex symbol in France. Betty Blue was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film, and offers from Hollywood came flooding in, though never amounting to anything. After his disappointment in America, Beineix returned to Paris, where he shot Roselyne et les lions (1989), based on the memoirs of the wild-cat trainer Thierry Le Portier, whom he had met on an advertising set. In 1992, he made IP5: L'île aux pachydermes, Yves’ Montand’s last role, about a journey shared by the three main characters: Tony, a graffiti artist in love; a young black boy named Jockey; and Leon, a mysterious and obsessed old man.

The program includes:

1981 Diva

1983 The Moon in the Gutter / La lune dans le caniveau

1986 Betty Blue / 37°2 le matin

1989 Roselyne et les lions

1992 IP5: L'île aux pachydermes


Luc Besson

(born March 18, 1959, Paris)

Besson was interested in cinema from an early age. After finishing school, he undertook a short internship in Hollywood, where he began working in the film industry on both short and feature films, later becoming an assistant director at the Gaumont Film Company, where he worked with  Lewis Gilbert, Clive Donner, Claude Faraldo, and Patrick Grandperret, among others. Between 1978 and 1982, he made four short films: Les petites sirenes, Voici, L'avant-dernier, and Formule 2. He founded his own production company in 1981, where he did advertising work. His debut in the science-fiction genre, The Last Battle (1983), brought him critical recognition and several international awards. In the film, Besson shows us a post-apocalyptic world and the people who escaped unscathed by the destruction and who have to build a new social order from scratch. He introduces a range of bizarre, unique characters, a feature that will come to typify his style. His second film, Subway (1985), again penetrates the margins of society, this time in the Paris metro, an underground world that exists independent of what is happening outside. The spirited film The Big Blue (1988), which enjoyed remarkable success in France (8 million viewers), also showed a dichotomy, this time between the world on land and the one under water. The film’s protagonists are Jacques Mayol and Enzo Molinari, rival champions in the sport of free diving. Nikita (1989) is, in turn, an insightful female portrait. This time, the character created by Besson is constantly being transformed, from a lost punk to a rebellious student at a school for special forces, to a femme fatale to the perfect assassin.

The program includes:

1983 The Last Battle / Le dernier combat 

1985 Subway

1988 The Big Blue / Le Grand bleu

1989 Nikita

1991 Atlantis


Léos Carax

(born November 21, 1960, Suresnes)

As a 20-year-old, following his studies at Paris 7 University and the American College in Paris, Léos Carax, born Alexandre Oscar Dupont, made several short films and also worked for the cult film magazine 'Cahiers du Cinéma', which was edited by Serge Daney. He then took on the artistic pseudonym Léos Carax, an anagram of his first two names. His first published critical text was a positive review of Sylvester Stallone’s directorial debut, Paradise Alley (1978), in which he expressed his appreciation for the sort of technique that he always demanded from cinema and from filmmakers. Shortly thereafter, he made his first short films: La fille rêvée (1978) and Strangulation Blues (1980), which was awarded the Grand Prix for short films at the Hyères Festival in 1981. He also appeared as an actor in Godard’s King Lear and Philippe Garrel’s Les ministères de l'art. He spent three years making his feature-film debut, the black-and-white movie Boy Meets Girl (1984), inspired by the silent films of Jean Cocteau and the work of Jean-Luc Godard and starring Denis Lavant and Mireille Perrier in the lead roles. The film premiered at the festival in Cannes, where it won the Youth Prize for the best French film, and Carax was proclaimed by the critics to be the heir to the New Wave. The film tells the story of a young man, Alex, who has just broken up with his girlfriend, as a result of which he becomes depressed. One day, he meets an actress who has just left her lover. They are both trying to pull themselves together in this new situation, while also forgetting the cruelty of everyday life.

A scandal cleared the way for the young artist in the film business, allowing him to make his next film, The Night Is Young (1986), with a quartet of actors: Julie Delpy, Juliette Binoche, Michel Piccoli and Denis Lavant. The film received the Alfred Bauer award for innovation and a CICAE Award from the International Confederation of Art Cinemas at the International Film Festival in Berlin in 1987. Carax’s directorial talent was confirmed by his next, emotional films: The Lovers on the Bridge (1991) and Pola X (1999). After 13 years of silence, the director returned with Holy Motors, an explosive vaudeville starring Denis Levant, a film that has already earned a reputation as a cult classic.

The program includes:

1984 Boy Meets Girl

1986 The Night Is Young / Mauvais sang

1991 The Lovers on the Bridge / Les amants du Pont-Neuf

1999 Pola X

2012 Holy Motors

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